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Europe

Coalition wrangling expected as Dutch head to polls

©

Text by Joseph BAMAT

Latest update : 2012-09-12

Dutch voters will head to the polls on Wednesday with the Liberal and the Labour party racing towards what is expected to be a close finish, as well as painful post-election coalition negotiations.

Voters in the Netherlands were heading to the polls on Wednesday to pick a new parliament, in an election that is likely to confirm the leadership of prime minister Mark Rutte of the liberal VDD party, but not hand him enough support to avoid a taxing and potentially long search for coalition partners.

Opinion polls forecast a very close finish between the VDD and the opposition centre-left Labour Party, and even before polling stations opened there was much speculation in the Dutch press about the potential alliances that will need to be forged to form the country’s next government.

A coalition between Rutte, politician Geert Wilders’ right-wing Party for Freedom (PVV) and the conservative Christian Democrats (CDA) fell through last April after Wilders refused to back a painful cuts package designed to lower the budget deficit.

According to Bernard Bouwman, an adjunct professor at Webster University in the city of Leiden and an expert in political communication, Dutch voters are painfully aware of the shortcomings of the previous government and are fearful of a similar outcome.

“Many people are worried about coalition arrangements. They want a strong government that will need to make many important decisions,” Bouwman said.

According to the latest opinion survey by polling agency De Hond, the VDD is on pace to win 33 seats, just one ahead of the surging Labour party with 32. The party with the most seats traditionally provides the new prime minister and takes the lead in forming the next government.

Following strong televised debates by leader Diederik Samsom - a former Greenpeace activist and a ex-green energy businessman - the moderate Labour party was running a neck-and-neck race at the close of the campaigns. On Wednesday, it could sneak back into power after a ten year hiatus, but would be on no better footing than the VDD to bring together a solid coalition.

Picking sides

For Jean-Yves Camus, a researcher at France’s Institute for International and Strategic Relations (IRIS) and an expert on far-right European groups, the vote breakdown forecast by De Hond and other pollsters will allow either Socialist Party leader Emile Roemer or Wilder to play kingmaker after Election Day.

However, Bouwman said that Rutte was not likely to return to the VDD-PVV-CDA deal that met with resounding failure. He said that while campaign statements suggested the opposite, a coalition between the VDD, Labour and the centrist and socially liberal D66 was the most viable coalition. The Netherlands saw such an alliance before in the late 1990s.

On Monday, Rutte said such an alliance was “practically impossible” because the coalition would not have a majority in parliament's upper house, meaning it would be hard to push through legislation.

Any future government will have pressing challenges to address after it takes form, such as deciding what relationship the Netherlands will forge with Germany and the EU as a whole, saving a quickly sinking real estate market, and balancing the country’s generous social welfare model with widespread calls to reform the economy.

Exit Wilders?

Wednesday’s election could leave far-right leader Wilders with a hangover. In 2010 the platinum-haired politician skyrocketed to prominence in his country and across Europe when his party finished in third place with 24 seats. His anti-Islam party could claim as few as 18 seats on Wednesday, and is struggling with internal tensions.

According to Bouwman, some former allies have ditched Wilders’ party and revelations that the hard-right accepted money from Jewish groups in the United States has been widely frowned upon by Dutch voters. The scholar said that Wilders has also failed to convincingly shift his rhetoric from its previous anti-Islam focus to one critical of EU encroachment from Brussels.

“Today there is less concern about Islam and immigration. Wilders tried to respond to this change by playing a new card and focusing on Europe, but has not been successful. Most people realise Europe has some problems but the Netherlands is a small country and at the end of the day it has to deal with Europe,” Bouwman noted.

IRIS’ Camus said Wilder’s had lost credibility among voters and even wondered if his PVV party has a future in Dutch politics.

“When he had the opportunity to enforce part of his platform he broke the coalition deal and walked away. It is not responsible, especially during an economic crisis,” he said.

“The PVV remains a one man show, in which he is the only public figure. The whole party will probably crumble,” Camus added.

Date created : 2012-09-11

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