Posted on March 9, 2006

Local Elections — National Consequences

Hans Andringa, Radio Netherlands, March 8, 2006

The social democrats of the opposition Labour Party (PvdA) emerged as the main winners of Tuesday’s local elections in the Netherlands — the main losers were the three parties in the current coalition government.

While local elections have no formal consequences in terms of Dutch national politics, the outcome of this particular vote does have an impact on the current government in The Hague, for the voters used the polls to express their rejection of the policies of Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende. The leader of the conservative-liberal VVD, Jozias van Aartsen, has already drawn his own conclusions, and resigned.

Of the three governing parties, the Christian Democrat CDA of Prime Minister Balkenende, notched up the greatest loss in support, but its two government partners — the conservative VVD and the progressive-liberals of D66 — were also clear losers. The people of the Netherlands appear to have had enough of the policies of this centre-right cabinet. The signal they sent could not have been clearer, for the opposition parties made considerable gains.

Positive message

The past four years have seen sizeable cutbacks in nearly all areas of government spending. At the same time, unemployment rose, while wages were frozen, cutting people’s spending power as prices continued to rise. Furthermore, for a long time, the government made much of highlighting in particular all those things in the country which it regarded as wrong, when there was in fact a need for a positive message.

Despite the current, yet cautious, economic recovery, people have little confidence in the government. In just over a year’s time, the country will be voting again in the general election, and the parliamentary leader of the Christian Democrats, Maxime Verhagen, has expressed the hopes that, in the coming months, more people will come to appreciate the good points of the cabinet’s policies.

That might be a little too optimistic on his part, because it’s highly likely that the bad local election result will weaken the sitting coalition government. The resignation of the leader of the conservative VVD is the first sign, and with Prime Minister Balkenende having proved to be a poor crisis manager over recent years, this could lead to the accelerated collapse of the cabinet.

Revolution over

The local elections have also demonstrated that the political revolution started by murdered politician Pim Fortuyn is over. In practically all the towns and cities where the ‘heirs’ of the populist politician took part in the elections, they lost significantly. Many of the promises they made to the electorate simply have not been fulfilled.

In the city of Rotterdam, where Mr Fortuyn and his followers scored an enormous victory in the local elections of 2002, the ‘traditional’ balance of power has almost been restored, with the Labour Party once again the largest party.

The gains made by Labour across the country can be attributed in part to the votes of Dutch people with a foreign background. Around 80 percent of this ‘ethnic vote’ went to Labour candidates. The party’s victory could have been even bigger if more members of the ethnic minority communities had actually voted. Average turnout throughout the nation was around 60 percent, while the same figure among ethnic voters was only 37 percent.

Yesterday’s municipal elections in the Netherlands were won by the Left. The Labour Party (PvdA) gained more than 500 town hall seats, an increase of 50 per cent compared with 2002, while the far-left Socialist Party (SP) doubled its number of seats. The Christian-Democrat CDA of Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende and his government coalition partner, the free-market Liberal VVD, suffered heavy losses. Yesterday’s result does not bode well for the Right in next year’s general elections. If the result in 2007 is the same as yesterday’s the PvdA will gain 49 of the 150 parliamentary seats, while the CDA — currently the largest party — will lose 13 of its 44 seats. A government of Labour, the SP and the extreme-left Groen Links (Green Left) Party could replace the current center-right government, leaving the Netherlands with a radical-left coalition similar to that of Norway today.

Today the center-left newspaper De Volkskrant writes that the immigrant vote has tipped the balance in favour of the Left. This should not come as a surprise. All across Europe, immigrants tend to vote for the Left. The Left is perceived to be the welfare state’s Santa Claus. Most of the immigrants who came to Europe during the past decades were attracted by the generous welfare benefits which Western Europe lavishly bestows on the “underprivileged.” Today, owing to their demographic growth, the immigrant vote is increasing as more and more young immigrants reach voting age. In many countries the Left has begun to cater for the immigrants, aware that the immigrants guarantee their power.

According to the Institute for Migration and Ethnic Studies of the University of Amsterdam 80% of the non-indigenous electorate voted for Labour. This explains why cities such as Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Breda and Arnhem succumbed to the Left. 84% of the Turks voted for the PvdA; 81% of the Antillians/Surinamese did likewise. Of the Moroccans 78% voted Labour and 12% voted Green Left.

The center-right VVD, the party of famous Dutch policians such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Frits Bolkestein, received only 1% of the immigrant vote. The CDA got 3%, the SP 5% and Green Left 7%.

According to De Telegraaf, the largest paper in the country, immigrant voters have become a power block.

The effects of the immigrant vote will soon be visible. The Amsterdam borough of De Baarsjes has already decided to remove a white cross which serves as a memorial to the Second World War. The cross is situated not far from the place where a mosque is being built. According to the authorities “Muslims and Jews” take offense at the cross as a war memorial. “We told them that it is a Dutch tradition to refer to the dead with a cross. However, the cross is seen as a reference to Christianity. I can understand this,” the local (Christian-Democrat) councillor, Jan Voetberg, said.