Polling stations returned an inconclusive election result in provincial elections on Wednesday. The country remains divided straight down the middle, and the results have left the country in a political muddle.
With most of the votes counted, it appears that Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s coalition government will fall one seat short of the much-needed majority in the upper house of parliament, the Senate.
The coalition can continue without a Senate majority, but it will be significantly more difficult to get legislation passed. Mr Rutte himself warned that this could lead to a political stalemate.
But the country must wait until 23 May to find out the exact make-up of the Senate. That is because the Senate is not directly elected by Dutch voters. Instead, the new provincial assemblies elected on Wednesday will choose the members of the upper house when they convene for the first time in the spring.
In the meantime, the horse-trading has already begun. The coalition is looking for smaller parties in the Senate to help secure majority support. One party that can expect a call is the new 50-plus party, which represents the interests of the elderly. They may be willing to make a deal to support the coalition in the Senate. The ultra-conservative Christian party, the SGP, may do the same with its Senate seat.
And the deal-making doesn’t end there. All of the opposition parties could also get involved. This has already been happening in the lower house, where the coalition has only a razor-thin majority based on parliamentary support from Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party. For instance, opposition parties supported the government’s decision to send a police training mission to Afghanistan.
If the coalition does indeed fall one seat short of a majority in the Senate, this sort of deal-making could become the norm for the next few years.
Jolanda Sap, leader of the Green Left, benefited from this deal-making when she forced the government to make changes in the police-training mission in exchange for her party’s votes. Nonetheless, she does not think this kind of deal-making is the best way forward.
“I'm worried about stagnation… This country won’t get much further if this political ping-pong goes on indefinitely.”
Meanwhile, the most divisive political leader at the moment - Geert Wilders - continued to make gains. His Freedom Party took part in provincial elections for the first time and, though they fell a little short of expectations, they still did very well, coming in as the fourth largest party in the country. In last year’s parliamentary elections, the Freedom Party came in third. The lower-than-expected showing may be due to lower turnout among Freedom Party voters.
Nonetheless, this marks yet another big step forward for the Freedom Party, which has been making gains in every election since 2006.
With their new provincial representation, the Freedom Party will even get the chance to provide members of the executive branch in at least one province. That is because the Freedom Party is now the largest party in Wilders’ home province of Limburg. Reacting to his party’s victory in Limburg, and strong showing elsewhere, Mr Wilders said:
“We are giving Limburg back to the Limburgers, Friesland back to the Frisians and the Netherlands back to the Dutch.”
Giving back to the Dutch
Prime Minister Mark Rutte, for his part, echoed Mr Wilders' comments as he celebrated his conservative VVD party’s first-place showing and the chance that the three coalition parties may yet squeeze out a majority in the Senate.
“We’ll give this wonderful country back to the Dutch. That is our project.”
Of course, the Dutch have been running this country for hundreds of years. But rarely has the Netherlands been so divided, with no resolution in sight.