The Dutch coalition puzzle

It has been about nine months since the last Dutch general elections.
The “People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy” (VVD), the ruling party since 2010, has been struggling to form a coalition government ever since its re-election, resulting in the Netherlands effectively being left without a government since March.

The start of this turbulent saga began when the VVD got re-elected into power, with Mark Rutte (the party leader) as the Prime Minister. Unfortunately for the VVD, although it was the party with the largest share of votes (21.87%), in the Dutch political system, having the greatest amount of votes alone is not enough to be able to govern. 

As a matter of fact, a political party must hold what it is commonly referred to as an “absolute majority” to be able to govern (50%+ of the votes). When a party is not able to reach the 50%+ margin by itself, it must form a coalition with a party/parties with a smaller share of votes (usually the party with the second biggest share) so that the ruling parties’ votes will together reach the 50%+ margin. This system is designed to ensure that the government will nearly always reflect the will of the people. 

This organisation has an inherent weakness though. Namely, that a smaller party/parties may refuse to form a coalition with the larger party for any given reason: this is exactly what happened in the VVD case. Rutte’s preferred coalition, which also happened to be the previous government coalition, between the VVD, CDA (Christian Democratic Appeal), D66, and ChristenUnie, did not take shape. One of the big reasons for this was the distribution of the votes, which mainly saw the CDA win 9.50% of the votes, ChristenUnie winning 3.37%, and D66, winning an unexpected and outstanding 15.02% of the votes.  

This is why when D66, CDA, and ChristenUnie decided not to collaborate with each other (mainly due to ideological differences) in the proposed coalition, it put Rutte in a very difficult situation in terms of alliance. This is because, with the lack of votes coming from these parties, of which D66 had the biggest share after the VVD, a majority was not reached. As a result, Rutte’s options to form a coalition were, and still are, running low. The “Party for Freedom” (the third-largest party) was criticised in the past by Rutte for being untrustworthy and, to a certain extent, even controversial, given their anti-islamic and anti-immigration agenda, taking them out of the equation. 

These sort of ideological differences, which paved the way for general reluctance to collaborate with each other, is the main reason why the VVD is still unable to reach common grounds and agree on a coalition government, even after months of negotiation with several parties, such as the PvdA (Partij van de Arbeid), Volt, the Socialist Party, the Labour Party or others. Not to mention the “Child Welfare Scandal”, where thousands of families were wrongly accused of child welfare fraud during the previous VVD mandate (which caused Rutte to step down as Prime Minister before he was re-elected in March). This scandal seriously damaged the VVD’s image to the electorate and other political parties alike, which made the prospect of successfully forming a coalition even more difficult.

Everything considered, forming a coalition government will certainly be a difficult puzzle for Rutte and the VVD to solve. But a breakthrough in the negotiations may take place soon. The VVD, D66, CDA and ChristenUnie have aimed at having a new coalition agreement by 5th December, but only time can tell if these talks will finally result in the formation of a government.

by Antonio

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Images from Unsplash

Sources: 

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-55674146
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nDbAv2HIE9g&ab_channel=TLDRNewsEU
https://www.dutchnews.nl/news/2021/06/vvd-and-d66-to-start-sketching-out-a-coalition-deal-as-impasse-continues/
https://www.dutchnews.nl/news/2021/06/no-movement-on-coalition-talks-rutte-backs-continuing-current-coalition/
https://www.houseofrepresentatives.nl/elections
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/oct/29/a-lot-of-work-to-do-dutch-government-formation-talks-drag-on-for-record-226-days
https://www.verkiezingsuitslagen.nl/verkiezingen/detail/TK20210317
https://www.dutchnews.nl/news/2021/11/coalition-parties-aim-to-have-a-new-agreement-by-december-5/

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