Dem 51
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GOP 49
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There was a Dutch Parliamentary Election Yesterday

We often get comments to the effect of: "I don't like either the Democrats or the Republicans." Pollsters talk about "double haters," people who despise both Donald Trump and Joe Biden. These folks want more choice. But be careful what you wish for. Sometimes that doesn't work out so well. Case in point: the Netherlands. There was an election yesterday. The number of parties was probably upwards of 30. It's a bit hard to get the exact number since some of them are not on the ballot in every province (similar to the GP, LP, and No Labels in the U.S.). In the Amsterdam area, there are 25 parties on the ballot. Here is a billboard with each party's poster:

Billboard with Dutch political parties' signs

Campaigns last about 2 months, not 4 years. They consist of passing out the posters like the ones above for people to put in their windows as well as televised debates between the parties leading in the polls. The system is pure proportional representation in the 150-seat parliament. So if your party can get 0.7% of the vote, it gets one seat.

It is rare for any party to get even 25% of the vote, so coalitions are needed. Now here's the rub: While it is relatively easy to find a party that matches your views closely, after the election, the task of putting together a coalition that has 76 seats in the parliament is gigantic, as each party wants to enact the program it promised its voters. This is especially true of the smaller parties that are narrowly focused on a single issue and which won't join the government unless they get what they want.

Unfortunately, many of the parties' programs are in conflict. Consequently, it often takes close to a year to form a new government after an election. During that period, the country is basically paralyzed, with the old government staying in place to keep the lights on, but doing little else. And if the new coalition is narrow, it can fall apart easily if a few members balk at something the government wants to do.

Additionally, the leaders of some parties dislike the leaders of other parties and refuse to work with them. For example, the leader of the PVV (Party for Freedom), Geert Wilders, is persona non grata with some of the other party leaders because his party wants to stop all immigration from Muslim countries. He is also anti-Islam and anti-EU. He's not a Donald Trump clone, though. On economic issues he is center-left—for example, he wants to lower health-care costs, build more affordable housing, and hire more teachers. On the Middle East, he supports a two-state solution, with Israel and Jordan being the two states. The Palestinians should kindly just move to Jordan and then shut up, in his view. He also doesn't want to help Ukraine as it is "not my problem."

The current Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, is the leader of the VVD (People's Party for Freedom and Democracy), the biggest "conservative" party (but somewhat to the left of Joe Biden). He has served four terms as P.M. and is bored with the job. He is gunning for becoming secretary general of NATO. The new leader of his party is a Turkish immigrant woman, Dilan Yeşilgöz-Zegerius, the current minister of justice (AG). Just before the election she said that she would be prepared to talk with the PVV, something no other party was prepared to do. This might have made the PVV more acceptable to some people and may have helped them. It is hard to say at this point.

Here are the results, with the last three columns given in number of seats in the 150-seat parliament. The coloring is only approximate since some parties are lefty on some issues and righty on others. The LP, for example, is like the U.S. LP. It wants low taxes and no government regulation of anything, but that also means no government interference on things like abortion, same-sex marriage, drug usage, etc. Do whatever you want; it's none of the government's business. According to the staff mathematician, it takes 76 seats to get a majority:

Abbreviation Translated Party Name Focus Position Last poll Results Error
PVV Party for Freedom Anti-immigrant Racist center 27 37 +10
PvdA/GL Labour + Green-left Social democracy Left 25 25 0
VVD People's Pty. for Freedom & Democracy Conservative Center-right 28 24 -4
NSC New Social Contract Better life for the people Center 21 20 -1
D66 Democrats 66 Social liberalism Center-left 10 9 -1
BBB Farmer-Citizen Movement Agrarianism Right-wing 6 7 +1
CDA Christian Democratic Appeal Christian democracy Center-right 4 5 +1
SP Socialist Party Democratic socialism Left-wing 5 5 0
PvdD Party for the Animals Animal rights Left-wing 5 3 -2
CU Christian Union Christian democracy Center 4 3 -1
FvD Forum for Democracy Fascism Ultra far-right 4 3 -1
SGP Reformed Christian Party Christian right Right-wing 3 3 0
DENK DENK Immigrant's rights Center-left 4 3 -1
Volt Volt Netherlands Pro-European Union Center 3 2 -1
JA21 Right Answer 2021 Liberal conservatism Right-wing 1 1 0
50+ 50 PLUS Like AARP Center 0 0 0
BVNL Interest of the Netherlands Classical liberalism Right-wing 0 0 0
BIJ1 BIJ1 Anti-capitalism Left-wing 0 0 0
LEF The New Generation Young people Left-wing 0 0 0
LP Libertarian Party Individual rights Mixed left+right 0 0 0
PPNL Pirate Party Transparent government Mixed left+right 0 0 0
SPL Splinter Party Social liberalism Center-left 0 0 0
PvdS Party for Sports Health promotion N.A. 0 0 0
NLPLAN List 24 small business, minorities Center-left 0 0 0
SvN Together for the Netherlands Holland-first Right-wing 0 0 0

Some observations now. First, 16 parties will be represented in the parliament. That is about par for the course. Second, the PVV, which might be described as a racist center party, is the biggest. Third, the polls hugely underestimated the PVV. This could be due to one of two things. Either a lot of people changed their minds at the last minute or there was a shy-Wilders effect (like the shy-Trump effect). In other words, people didn't want to admit to the pollster that they were voting for the racist.

Now comes the fun part: putting together a coalition that can get to 76. The top three parties together have 86 seats, but they disagree on everything. The PVV cares mostly about not allowing any more immigrants, especially Muslims, into the country. In fact, it would like to deport the ones already present. Also, it would like to ban the Q'uran and ban mosques. The Labour Party (with its little brother, the Green Party) wants to raise taxes on the rich and be nice to immigrants. The VVD wants to lower taxes on the rich, and doesn't like immigrants especially (even though the leader is an immigrant from Turkey), but that is not its main focus. These guys could never work together. Impossible.

So now what? Traditionally the leader of the biggest party gets to try to put the puzzle together. However, most of the parties refuse to deal with Wilders. Maybe he could talk the VVD and NSC into joining him, but that would be tough and lead to an extreme (for the Netherlands) right-wing government. There would be street demonstrations by everyone else every day until a few members of the VVD and/or NSC bolted and called for a motion of no confidence to force a new election.

The PvdA/GL, D66, CDA, SP, CU, DENK, and Volt might be able to work together, but they have only 50 seats together for a center-left coalition. Maybe they could get the NSC to join them. That party was formed in August 2023 and it's not clear what it stands for, if anything. Then there would be 70 seats and nine parties (PvdA and GL are actually separate parties). It's not enough and very unwieldy.

Another possibility is PvdA/GL, VVD, NSC, and D66. That would be a grand left-center-right coalition. It might work, with 78 seats, but they don't actually agree on much except the EU is good and something needs to be done about climate change. They definitely don't agree on the economic stuff. Conceivably, they could agree to work together and focus on climate and leave tax and related matters the way they are now and not change anything. In this arrangement, the biggest party (by far) is left out. All its voters would not be happy campers. This would be something like the House Democrats banding with the non-Trumpy Republicans to work together and tell the Trumpists to go to hell. It would be unstable since some individual members of the parliament, especially the Green Party members, might bolt at having to work with the conservative VVD. If the PvdA leader, Frans Timmermans, became prime minister, they might very grudgingly accept it.

Everyone expects the formation of the government to take months. An arrangement including the biggest (and racist) party would infuriate many people, but leaving it out would, too. There is no workable solution.

Oh, and the election was for the lower chamber of parliament, the "Tweede Kamer," literally the "Second Chamber." There is also an "Eerste Kamer," literally the "First Chamber." It is sometimes colloquially called the "Senaat" (Senate). Currently a coalition of the VVD, CDA, D66, and CU has the majority there. Legislation has to pass it as well and if the lower chamber began passing racist laws, the Senate would probably balk. A complete stalemate is possible.

Next time you wish the U.S. had more parties, think: Is the above situation what you think is ideal? Thirty parties and choice galore? (V)

Answer to quiz above: Donald J.Trump is responsible for the statement.

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