In the past, the biggest party in Parliament had about 40 to 50 seats, often representing a fourth or a third of the electorate. Now, the biggest party represents only one-fifth of the nation. Wilders’ new movement represents almost seventeen percent of the electorate. It is a clear indication of the many political agendas vying for votes, and the divisions between the voters.
The elections held on Wednesday show two parties with 10 seats, one with 5 seats, and two with 2 seats. The big five are now the VVD with 31 seats, the Social Democrats with 30, Wilders’ Freedom Party with 24, the Christian Democrats with 21, and the hard-core leftist Socialist Party with 15.
The tiny parties often play an important role in the creation of coalitions. Their influence can reach far beyond their number of seats when they are needed to form a majority coalition.
There is a small majority for the VVD, the Freedom Party, and the devastated Christian Democrats (they have 76 seats combined). On the other side, the leftist parties cannot form a majority coalition, unless the Christian Democrats participate — a repetition of the previous coalition that collapsed and resulted in these elections.
The problem for the three centrist-conservative parties is that they have different agendas. In the past, the Christian Democrats have shown disapproval of Wilders’ strong stance against Muslim immigration, and the new leadership (Prime Minister Balkenende stepped down as the CD leader) may be unwilling to participate in a governing coalition immediately after they have been butchered by the voters. In that case, the VVD, which will be given the task to form a government, has to investigate the possibilities of a coalition with the Social Democrats, who had been part of the previous coalition as well and were punished with the loss of 3 seats.
Geert Wilders’ party grew from 9 to 24 seats, an amazing feat in Dutch politics. Wilders can only be part of the ruling coalition if he can close a deal with the VVD and the Christian Democrats (the Social Democrats exclude any commitment with him). Wilders’ chances seem to be slim at the moment, unless he is willing to water down his program and start to sound and look like an average Dutch politician.
Since Fortuyn’s dramatic appearance on the political stage in Holland, a huge part of the electorate cut its loyalty to the existing parties and started looking for different voices. The “big three” of the mainstream parties — in the past the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats could count on at least 40 seats, while the VVD has always been a bit smaller — lost their appeal by not addressing the issues that resulted from the immigration from Muslim countries in a timely manner. Both blue and white collar workers don’t vote automatically anymore for the parties with which they have been traditionally allied. They are well-educated, well-informed, have access to the internet, and tend to vote as non-partisan consumers looking for the best deal in town.
There is talk now of an extra-parliamentarian government with independent ministers recruited from academia and the business world. Just don’t be surprised if all talks fail and new elections are needed.