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And You Think American Politics is Complicated?

- February 23, 2010

Last week I blogged about what the (then impending) Dutch cabinet crisis about the Afghanistan war showed about the limits to soft power. Now a bit more on what must seem to most Americans peculiar domestic politics. Below is a graph that shows the projected number of seats the main parties in the Netherlands would get according to the latest opinion polls (and yes, these are just the main parties, ignoring for instance the Party for the Animals, which has two seats). Any coalition needs a total of 75 seats. The main players within the government were the PvdA (center-left, 33 seats) and CDA (center-right 41 seats) who governed together with the small Christian Union. As the graph shows, both of these parties had lost a lot of seats according to the polls, with the PvdA doing particularly badly in recent months.

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This is the context behind the PvdA’s insistence to honor its promise to bring Dutch troops home from Afghanistan. The first-post crisis poll suggests that this was a good move politically: the PvdA gained 4 seats in the polls. More importantly for Bos (the party leader), Bos’ position within the PvdA was strengthened. Whereas he was running second in popularity in many recent polls, after the crisis he established himself again as the undeniable party leader (65% of his party wants him to stay leader against 11% for his rival). By contrast, Balkenende (the prime-minister and CDA leader) is now running second within his own party.

It is anyone’s guess how this is all going to play out in the next elections. Traditionally, almost all Dutch coalitions consisted of two or three parties. The way it looks now, at least four parties will be needed to form a coalition. There are seven parties that are projected to win between 12 and 25 seats, with no clear frontrunner. The party that currently runs in second place is Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom, a party that few are eager to work with thanks to Wilders’, shall we say, controversial persona, tactics and policy positions. If Wilders’ party becomes the largest, a distinct possibility, he will be asked to form a government; a difficult task given that several parties have pledged not to govern with him. The good thing is that the Netherlands will continue to function pretty well even without a functioning government.