The following entry is authored by JD Mussel, who frequently comments here at F&V. Because JD is in the Netherlands, I asked him if he would like to offer a preview of the 12 September elections in that country.
All of what follows is by JD, not me.
On Wednesday 12 September next week, Dutch voters will choose the ‘Second Chamber’ – the lower house of the Dutch Parliament. The elections are being held two years early after the government fell in April – in short, the Freedom Party (PVV), who were supporting the minority Liberal (VVD)-Christian Democrat (CDA) government, withheld their support after some weeks of consultations on the budget. Since it was calculated the deficit was going to rise above the EU-agreed norm of 3%, the two government parties wanted another round of cuts, which the PVV could not agree with. Despite being able to quickly make a new budget with three other parties, the government resigned and new elections were called.
The electoral system is flexible-list PR – and is probably the most proportional in the world, as all 150 seats are one nationwide constituency with the only threshold being that a party needs to win enough votes to fulfil one quota – ie 0.67% of the national vote. Partially as a result of this system, but perhaps more so as a result of the breakdown of the Dutch social order based on ‘pillarization’, the political landscape has been very volatile ever since the turn of the century. Most importantly, new parties have been storming in and out of parliament, radical or protest parties have grown in size while the three ‘established’ parties – CDA, VVD and Labour have been collectively losing ground (especially the CDA) and therefore finding it difficult to form relatively comfortable (and stable) coalitions. Since 1994, with the exception of the elections that followed in 1998, after every election, a coalition government has been formed in a way that had never been tried previously, with the most recent example being the Rutte minority cabinet supported by the PVV. Moreover, since 1998, a government has never served for the full term.
Over the month or two, the main election battle – for which party would become biggest – seemed to be between the VVD and the formerly-Maoist Socialist Party (SP). However, about a week ago the Labour party leader did very well in an important televised debate, and since then left-wing tide has turned in favour of the more mainstream Labour. This is a radical turnaround – in mid-August the SP was still predicted by the polls to win twice as many seats as Labour, while now it is Labour, with continuing momentum, who are vying for a first-place finish with the VVD.
But what is the importance of such a ‘victory’? After all, no party is even close to winning a majority. I think the main the main issue is that of which party will provide the prime minister. But what I hear more often (from Dutch as well as external sources) is that the biggest party ‘gets the first attempt at forming a government’. However, the Netherlands uses a system where ‘informateur(s)’ are appointed to hold consultations with party leaders as to a possible coalition. Only once agreement has been reached for a coalition, a ‘formateur’ is appointed to actually form the cabinet, with the formateur usually becoming PM.
Since the above system has been put in place, the Dutch Queen has had an important role in the formation of a government. First, she would meet with each party leader, as well a number of other important figures, for advice. Then she would appoint an informateur, usually some preeminent figure from the political establishment, with the task of exploring the possibility of a certain coalition. Often there would be more than one round of ‘information’ conducted, with multiple informateurs, until an agreement was in sight and a formateur could be appointed to finish the job of forming a government. However, sometime last year, the parliamentary rules of procedure were amended to provide for election of informateur and/or formateur by the incoming Second Chamber. This was possible as the whole system of government formation is in convention rather than law. If the newly-elected chamber manages to make this new system work, it will now all be done independently of the Queen, who will only have to sign the ministerial appointment documents and pose with the new ministry. With regard to the new system, many have suggested that the Chamber should elect the leader of the largest party as informateur, or elect him straight away as formateur – thus returning, in essence, to the 19th-century system where the Queen would appoint formateur after formateur until one of them succeeded (the only difference of course being the appointer).
Lastly, I’d like to mention a trend among Dutch party leaders – some time ago, the VVD codified an existing convention that their political leader, who stands at the head of the list, remains in the Chamber to lead the faction unless he becomes the PM (Ministers in the Netherlands have to resign their seat in parliament). Recently in the campaign, Labour party leader Samsom said he would do the same – he would not become minister in a cabinet led by someone else if Labour participates in the government, but remain in the chamber unless he becomes PM.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my entry! If I’ve managed to interest you in Dutch politics, do have a look at the great website by Peter-Paul Koch. It’s absolutely fascinating, and I’ve learned quite a lot from it myself.
This has been JD Mussel, reporting from the heart of Dutch democracy in The Hague.
On a “how to vote” application for the upcoming Dutch election, the second statement you are asked to agree or disagree with is:
The number of members in the Lower House should remain at 150.
Is the size of the chamber an issue in the Netherlands?
For the record, the chamber is one of the most undersized among the major democracies (see graph), according to the cube-root rule.
On a somewhat related note, can anyone explain the Central Planning Agency, mentioned in a Monkey Cagepost as an “authoritative” institution that “runs each party’s submissions [i.e. campaign proposals] through a model and offers projections”?
The Dutch government of Mark Rutte has indicated that he will submit his resignation, and early elections will be held, perhaps in September.
The fall of the cabinet was trigged by the refusal of the Freedom Party, led by Geert Wilders, to support the government’s austerity package.
The current government was formed in October, 2010, just over three months following the election that year. It is a two-party minority cabinet of the liberal VVD and the Christian Democrats (CDA), backed by the Freedom Party (which did not have cabinet seats).
More than three months since the election, the Netherlands has an accord on a minority coalition government. Three recent items from Radio Netherlands online offer the highlights.
Coalition talks in the Netherlands appear to have resulted in right-wing government supported by the far right. Negotiators reached agreement on Tuesday evening [27 Sept.] on the details of a coalition agreement between the free-market liberal VVD and Christian Democrats (CDA). A second agreement on parliamentary support by the Freedom Party has also been finalised. Tuesday was 111th day of the formation. Earlier in the evening, VVD leader Mark Rutte said the new cabinet will be named Rutte-Verhagen, acknowledging CDA leader Maxime Verhagen’s role in the coalition. [...]
The Qur’an will not be banned, headscarves will not be taxed, and Muslims will not be deported en masse. Geert Wilders did not get everything he wanted in the coalition agreement between the conservative VVD and the Christian Democrats, propped up by his own Freedom Party (PVV).
So what did Mr Wilders get in return for supporting this minority cabinet? These are the main PVV points:
There will be a complete ban on burqas, and police and justice employees will not be allowed to wear headscarves;
Conditional passports for new immigrants – to be withdrawn if they commit crimes in the first five years;
The pension age will only be raised to 66 not 67;
An extra 2,500 police officers;
Animal police will be introduced. 500 officers will look after the welfare of animals in the Netherlands;
The duration of unemployment benefit payments will not be reduced;
Maximum speed on the motorway will be increased to 130 kilometres per hour;
The current smoking ban will be lifted for small cafés
[...] Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party will not be part of the new cabinet, and so will not provide any ministers. The twelve ministers (down from the current 16) will be split evenly between the VVD and the CDA, and VVD leader Mark Rutte says the cabinet should be called Rutte-Verhagen I. The Freedom Party, for its part, will support the government in parliament.
This is a unique construction, with no precedent in Dutch politics. To achieve a stable minority government, the three parties have signed two different governing accords. One encompasses what all three parties have agreed to, and the other details what the VVD and CDA have agreed. Geert Wilders will not sign the second accord. However, he has agreed not to bring the government down over policies laid out in the agreement between the VVD and CDA.
Then comes a reminder of why it is not accurate to call this coalition a “right-wing government supported by the far right.” (Reiterating and detailing some points raised above.)
Wilders has managed to minimise cuts in a number of areas. The VVD and CDA have agreed that the retirement age will only be raised to 66 instead of 67. Wilders wanted it to stay at 65. There will be investment in care for the elderly and unemployment benefits will not be further limited.
This is actually not unusual. Many parties that tend to be called in the media and by politicians from other parties “far right” are not right-wing at all on the dimension that “left-right” normally refers to, which is economic policy. Parties like the Freedom Party are notoriously hard to label, but “nationalist” is probably more appropriate. While taking a hard-line view on immigration and even on public manifestations of minority identity (in particular, in today’s Europe, by Muslims), parties of this sort often take left-of-center positions on areas like social welfare. Of course, this combination is nothing new: there is a reason the term “national socialism” was invented, after all. (No, I am not saying Wilders is a Nazi, but only that this combination of issue positions is neither rare, nor meaningfully “right wing.”)
The Freedom Party has also secured some policy commitments on animal rights, which is not usually thought of as a right-wing cause.
The Christian Democratic Party MPs unanimously approved the agreement after a special party congress held on Saturday, 2 October.
The parliamentary party approved the deal after just two hours of discussion, in sharp contrast to a similar meeting last week when they failed to reach a decision after 15 hours of talks.
Acting party chairman Henk Bleker said the special CDA congress on Saturday had made the difference. 68 percent of the party members voted in favour of the coalition agreement and 32 percent against.
after an election campaign dominated by heated debates over language rights. The Prime Minister, Yves Leterme, threw in the towel in April after his government failed to resolve a row over how to repartition the “communes” or boroughs around Brussels into new voting districts divided by language lines. (The Independent)
Last time, three years ago, it took many months to put together a government.
As I have noted before, there has been a possibly unprecedented trend in the last decade or so around the world for exceptionally close election races between a country’s top two parties. Add the Netherlands 2010 to this list. Moreover, it is yet another parliamentary outcome that raises the question of whether the largest party should necessarily have the right to move first in attempting to put together a coalition government.
Given that the chamber has 150 seats, the government that is ultimately formed will involve bargaining among several parties. Of the other parties, the big winner–relative to last election–was the so-called Party for Freedom.
Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom (PVV), which demands an end to immigration from Muslim countries and a ban on new mosques, took its number of lawmakers from nine in the last parliament to 24, and could hope to enter a coalition government.
The VVD was also a substantial winner, gaining about ten seats. Almost certainly it will lead the government (whether or not it ends up with the most seats in parliament). The big question is whether the PVV will have cabinet posts.
And the big loser:
Pushed into fourth place was the Christian Democratic Action party of Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende. The CDA, which has been in almost all Dutch governments since World War II, lost 20 seats to end at 21.
The AFP says, “With none of the competing 18 parties able to rule alone, the party that arrives on top will lead coalition negotiations.” That is not necessarily true, of course. The Netherlands may have a convention that the first party gets to try first (does it?), but if another party besides the largest is better placed to form a government, it will be beginning formal negotiations quite soon. Whether it concludes them soon is, of course, a different question.
All that Belgium wants for Christmas is a government â€” and thousands of people marched through Brussels yesterday to demand that politicians should avoid the break-up of their country.
Yes, Belgium held elections for parliament in June. And, no, there still is not a new coalition in place to govern the country.
The demonstration referred to by the Times is, on one level, a great show of national unity. The Times reports that the demonstrators were:
bedecked with the black, gold and red of the national flag, with not a party affiliation in sight.
In a sign of the division between the two main language communities, there were noticeably more French-speaking marchers than those from the Flemish north, where support for national unity is more ambivalent.
The “Czechoslovakia option” is being discussed in the newspapers,1 and as the VOA reports, the impasse over coalition formation is indeed related to classic issues of federalism: how to divide the national wealth and the extent to which citizens of a richer region perceive themselves to be subsidizing the less wealthy citizens in other units of the federation.
Huge obstacles remain and neither side is budging. Flemish parties insist that regional governments must have more autonomy. With 60 percent of the population, Flanders generates 70 percent of Belgium’s Gross Domestic Product. The Dutch speaking area wants to retain more power and tax money, rather than sending it south.
Wallonia’s politicians are resisting this, partly because they see it as the first step toward dividing the country, which Walloons oppose in large numbers.
Then what to do with Brussels, which is mixed linguistically, unlike Prague, the former Czecho-Slovak capital. Brussels and Prague. Two of my favorite cities, and no, that is not only for the beer. But the beer is a major consideration, for sure. [↩]
â€¦. The current crisis dates from June 10, when the Flemish Christian Democrats, who demand greater autonomy for Flanders, came in first with one-fifth of the seats in Parliament. Yves Leterme, the party leader, would have become prime minister if he had been able to put together a coalition government. But he was rejected by French speakers because of his contempt for them – an oddity since his own father is a French speaker. He further alienated them, and even some moderate Flemish leaders, on Belgiumâ€™s national holiday, July 21, when he appeared unable – or unwilling – to sing Belgiumâ€™s national anthem.
Belgiumâ€™s mild-mannered, 73-year-old king, Albert II, has struggled to mediate, even though under the Constitution he has no power other than to appoint ministers and rubber-stamp laws passed by Parliament. He has welcomed a parade of politicians and elder statesmen to the Belvedere palace in Brussels, successively appointing four political leaders to resolve the crisis. All have failed.
On one level, there is normalcy and calm here. The country is governed largely by a patchwork of regional bureaucracies, so trains run on time, mail is delivered, garbage is collected, the police keep order.
Officials from the former government – including former Prime Minister Guy Verhhofstadt, who is ethnically Flemish – report for work every day and continue to collect salaries. The former government is allowed to pay bills, carry out previously decided policies and make urgent decisions on peace and security.
Earlier this month, for example, the governing Council of Ministers approved the deployment of 80 to 100 peacekeeping troops to Chad and a six-month extension for 400 Belgian peacekeepers stationed in Lebanon under United Nations mandates. But a new government will be needed to approve a budget for next yearâ€¦
The turning point is widely believed to have been last December when RTBF, a French-language public television channel, broadcast a hoax on the breakup of Belgium. The two-hour live television report showed images of cheering, flag-waving Flemish nationalists and crowds of French-speaking Walloons preparing to leave, while also reporting that the king had fled the country. Panicked viewers called the station, and the prime ministerâ€™s office condemned the program as irresponsible and tasteless. But for the first time, in the public imagination, the possibility of a breakup seemed real.
Is this the most famous example of a television program changing politics since Indian TVâ€™s dramatising the â€œRamayanaâ€ helped (it is said) rekindle voter support for the BJP?
_________ As noted, the above is by frequent propagator, Tom Round. He correctly noted that there is (or was) no Belgium (or, more generally, Benelux) thread at F&V. While there had been previous threads on the Netherlands, I do believe this entry by Tom is the first on Belgium. How I failed to note the Belgian election earlier this year is quite a mystery.–MSS
It keeps the actual party-list PR in a nationwide constituency, but proposes two major changes:
1. The d’Hondt formula should be replaced by the simple quota & largest remainder formula because it is fairer to smaller parties.*
2. Voters should get more power in determining who will be elected from the party lists. Normally the top candidates are elected; lower-ranked candidates can only get elected if they obtain 1/4th of a simple quota (only 10% of MPs get elected this way).
The Citizens Assembly proposes that a voter can vote for the whole list or for one candidate. The seats are distributed “proportionally” between the top of the list and the most vote-getters: if party A gets 20 seats, 40% of A-voters vote for the entire list, and 60% vote for some candidate on the list, then the top 8 are eleted and the 12 other seats go to the 12 candidates with the highest personal score.
That would be an interesting way of attempting to split the difference between open and closed lists. Elsewhere, I have proposed intra-party d’Hondt, allocating seats based on the shares of the votes cast for the list (as a whole) or to specific candidates. Neither intra-party d’Hondt nor this Dutch proposed method has ever been used, to my knowledge. My quick expectation would be that this proposal would allow the election of candidates with smaller personal-vote shares than would intra-party d’Hondt. That may be precisely consistent with the citizens’ goals, but in many other jurisdictions, the intraparty fragmentation promoted by rules in which large numbers of seats are filled by simple rank in preference votes has produced considerable dissatisfaction.
Apparently, the citizens like fragmentation, on both the intraparty and interparty dimension. I have just discussed the intraparty dimension. Regarding the interparty dimension, the decision to change from d’Hondt divisors to simple quota and largest remainders (SQLR) also would favor fragmentation. The proposal favors SQLR because it is “fairer” to small parties–overly so, I would argue. It can allow a party or faction thereof to split off and present its own list, with the result that the separate lists of the formerly unified party can obtain more seats collectively with the same votes than they could have running on one list. For this reason, many countries (including the Netherlands, previously, and Colombia most recently) using PR have abandoned SQLR for d’Hondt. A threshold can help overcome this effect, but the existing Dutch threshold is very low (about 2/3 of 1% of the nationwide vote).
Bancki reports that he can find only a Dutch text of the full proposal. If anyone reading this also reads Dutch, please post in the comments any additional information you can glean from the report.
YEREVAN (YERKIR) – In the Netherlands, a Turkish candidate for MP status in the Social Democrat Workersâ€™ Party has been removed from the partyâ€™s candidate list following his refusal to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide.
Ethnically Turkish Dutch citizen Erdinc Sacan was previously on the list for the upcoming November 22 elections in the Netherlands, this after being elected to a leadership position in 2003 in the Netherlandsâ€™ Brabant State. The leader of the Dutch Social Democrat Workersâ€™ Party commented on the situation, saying â€œIt was a difficult decision.
But there cannot be any ambiguity within our party with regards to our stance on this question. The fact that Sacan was not giving his support clearly to the party on this position left us with no other choice,â€ reports Hurriyet.com.
[The preceding is the full text of the story; related links at the original]
J.H. Snider has an update, from his correspondent in the Netherlands, on the Citizens Assembly that is reviewing the workings of Dutch democracy.
A couple of things stand out for me in the correspondent’s report:
A poll held in the previous weekend revealed some opinions in the assembly: The majority of the assembly does not want to change anything about the proportionality of our current system, the existence of coalition governments and the current high turnouts at elections (of around 80%).
All good and sensible. But…
Some things the majority thinks should be changed are the number of parties in parliament, the way coalitions and the cabinet are formed, and the role of MPs.
Keeping the existing things they like while getting the new things they want is going to be a interesting exercise in institutional design.
If by my laws you walk, and my commands you keep, and observe them,
then I will give-forth your rains in their set-time,
so that the earth gives-forth its yield
and the trees of the field give-forth their fruit.
--Vayikra 26: 3-4