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Does Anybody Want to Be in the Dutch Government?

- July 27, 2010

I am starting to feel really bad for Mark Rutte. In June 2010, he became the first VVD (right-wing liberals) leader ever to win a plurality of the votes in Dutch elections. This gave him the opportunity to also become the first VVD prime-minister ever. Yet, now nobody that he wants to be with wants to be with him.

Rutte first tried forming a right wing cabinet based on a minimally sized coalition with the CDA (Christian-Democrats, the big losers of the election) and the PVV (anti-Islamists, the big winners of the election). That didn’t work. He then tried a so-called “purple plus coalition” with the social democrats (PvdA), Greens, and centrist liberals (D’66), which failed over irreconcilable differences over budget cuts. The Dutch queen then asked former CDA prime-minister Ruud Lubbers, yes that Ruud Lubbers, to try again with the PVV-CDA-VVD coalition.

Although they are talking, it seems like they are mostly looking for excuses NOT to join the cabinet. CDA leader Verhagen suggests that VVD and Wilder’s PVV should form a minority coalition, which the CDA would support (at times) but not join. Wilders instead thinks that the VVD and the CDA should form a minority coalition, which the PVV would support (at times) but not join. It is clear that both leaders would prefer a right-wing government but want to bear no responsibility for the train wreck the coalition will likely be, hoping to benefit in the next election. The election markets are confused as well: despite that you can bet on ten different coalitions, the option “other” is by far the most likely (43%, the next one came in at 17% when I checked).

It is hard to predict what will happen. I wrote right after the elections that the CDA has no incentive to join a government and I will stick with that. They just have to avoid being perceived as overly obstructionist. In the post-election polls, the PVV is surging and the VVD is dropping, so calling new elections may not be so attractive for Rutte. These polls also provide incentives for the PVV to hold out for policies it wants but loyal liberal VVD-ers do not (e.g. a tax on wearing headscarves, outlawing the Koran). The PVV is a one-man party and there is no telling how cohesive they will be. Govern with the left and the VVD will be killed by the right in the next election. Isn’t it great to “win” an election?