Municipal elections leave nation fractured
Prime minister Balkenende is vulnerable in the national election campaign. His CDA party should reconsider his leadership.
Just looking at the numbers, the Labour party was the biggest loser of the Dutch municipal elections. Geert Wilders' PVV made a spectacular entry onto the political scene in two cities where it participated and left-wing liberal D66 earned the most seats elsewhere in the country.
The other significant loser of these elections was local democracy. Turnout had never been this low (54 percent) in municipal elections. With the interesting exception of The Hague and Almere, where Geert Wilders' Party for Freedom (PVV) ran. More people went to the polls there than did four years ago. It seems likely the PVV rallied its supporters, but that was an extra motivation for the rank and file of other parties as well.
What also stands out is that local parties have fared well in many municipalities despite the national issues and politicians that loomed over the local elections, partly as a result of the fall of the cabinet last month.
The low turnout, local parties and the fact the PVV only competed in two cities are some of the factors that make it hard to use Wednesday's results to predict the national election that will be held in three months.
Especially because voter loyalty has been dwindling since 1994; voters are floating and they could float in all directions. The Socialist Party is feeling this especially. Without significantly changing its ideas, it grew to unprecedented size in 2006 and lost considerably on Wednesday. This indicates that a change in leadership -- Agnes Kant replaced Jan Marijnissen as party leader in 2008 -- is more important then the content of a political programme. Kant acknowledged this on Thursday, when she announced she will not be leading the party in the next election.
But even if no expectations can be built on it, Wednesday's elections did yield some remarkable results. The right-wing liberal party VVD, for example, gained compared to 2006, but it lost in the two cities Wilders' party ran in. Where they competed with Wilders, who left the VVD in 2004, the liberals lost. Another interesting fact is that Christian Democratic CDA performed even worse than in the local elections four years ago.
Parallel to the local elections, a poll held on Wednesday indicated three parties, CDA, Labour and PVV, are competing to become the largest on June 9. But whichever wins, going by the latest poll the formation of a new cabinet in the fragmented Netherlands will be a very complicated process. Everything points to a situation where no majority coalition can be formed with two or even three parties.
The national election will also be about the position of prime minister Jan Peter Balkenende. He still wants to lead the CDA, but he won't represent his constituency in parliament. He will only return as prime minister, he said. This is an honest statement, but at odds with the spirit of the constitution. In the Netherlands, the electorate doesn't choose a government, it elects a parliament.
Balkenende has also made it clear he doesn't want to have another go at a coalition with Labour and would rather not partner with the PVV. This makes his position vulnerable. The CDA should consider changing its leader.