The Dutch Socialist Party was the “biggest winner” (Radio Netherlands) in the 7 March provincial elections in the Netherlands. The vote was for the provincial layer of government, which sits between the central government and the local municipalities. Across the 12 provinces, the broad left opposition SP was the biggest net gainer of seats and is now the second biggest party in two provinces.
Five hundred and sixty-four new members of the 12 Dutch provincial assemblies were elected on Wednesday. The main party of the coalition government, the Christian Democrats, saw a fall of 3% from their 2003 provincial election results, winning 151 seats. The second largest party of government, the PvdA (Labour), saw its vote fall by 6.2%, and it secured 114 seats, this time. In contrast, the broad left Socialist Party increased its share of the vote by 9.25 from the last provincial elections. It now has 83 seats (14.8%), or 836,531 votes (in 2003, the SP got 5.6% and 38 seats). This is part of a dramatic upward trend in SP election results.
In May, the provincial deputies will elect members of the Senate, or upper house of the parliament. The Senate monitors the lower house, which is the main body of the Dutch parliament. The Senate can reject proposed legislation and this was a real threat to the present right wing coalition government. However, the gains for the smallest coalition partner, the Christian Democrats, which doubled its Senate seats from 2 to 4, just rescued the coalition government. The Dutch government coalition managed to retain a narrow majority in the Senate.
“Gains from the small Christian Union party have saved the day for the new Dutch coalition government in provincial elections. The government was facing an embarrassing electoral defeat less than a month after taking office,” commented Radio Netherlands (08/03/07).
"It’s a blow” – admits Labour leader
Calculating by the share of each party in the new provincial deputies, the ruling Christian Democrats, Labor Party (PvdA) and the Christian Union will own together hold 41 of the 75 seats in the new senate.
The biggest winner was the Socialist Party, which is to increase its seats from four to 12 in the upper house. This follows the party’s big successes, in last November’s general elections, when it almost tripled its number of seats in the lower house of parliament.
The provincial election results showed a slight loss for the ruling coalition’s main party, the Christian Democrats (CDA), and a bigger lost for the social democrats (PvdA), the second main government party.
Gains for the Socialist Party (SP) were substantial. Compared with last November’s parliamentary elections, the party did not do as well but this was largely due to the lower turnout in provincial elections, which is always much lower than in national elections (46% turnout in March 2007 provincial elections, compared to 80% last November).
The SP is confirmed as the main opposition party. It is taking many votes from disillusioned former Labor (PvdA) voters, who are disgusted by Labour’s entry into a right wing dominated government. The Pvda lost heavily in polls this week. Wouter Bos, Finance Minister and one of the two deputy prime ministers in the coalition, admitted, "It’s a blow, but not as bad as we expected - it could have been a lot worse.”
Zeeland province PvdA leader Maria Le Roy conceded her party’s losses were “dramatic”. Le Roy said, “The SP gained at our expense. That means we have not been able to show our social side.”
SP: “Into government, next time”?
Socialist Party leader, Jan Marijnissen, made several statements in the election campaign to the effect: ‘We did not make it into government, but we will next time’.
Offensief (CWI in Netherlands), which is participates in the Socialist Party, argues entering a coalition with any of the main parties would be disastrous for the SP. All the main parties are pro-market and pro-cuts. The SP in coalition with any of these parties would be expected to act as a ‘left cover’ for attacks on the living standards of workers and for attacks on immigrants. It would follow the same path as the Labour Party, which previously was regarded as a party for working people until years of pro-bosses’ policies in government saw it lose that traditional support.
The SP leaders state they want reforms for working people, but they do not seriously challenge the rule of capitalism. Of course, Offensief supporters fight for every possible reform for the working class, but also point out that only a relentless mass struggle to change society – for a democratic socialist society where people’s needs replace profits – can secure past gains won by the working class and win new rights and better living standards for workers and the poor.
The SP leadership signaled a shift to the right in policies as the party made big electoral gains. The logic of this is to enter a coalition government, to ‘manage’ capitalism better for working people. Already, the SP is in local council coalitions that carry out privatisations, such as in Nijmegen, where the local bus service was sold off. Following its dramatic poll gains this week, the SP is poised to be part of provincial coalitions.
Many workers would be disillusioned with the SP in office, if it is part of an administration carrying out cuts. This is not what SP voters want. Around 76% of Socialist Party voters said the main reason they voted for the party, last November, was over concern for the future of health care. And 31% voted SP because the economy and poverty were their major concerns.
At the moment, most SP members and voters are, understandably, enthusiastic about the party’s electoral gains and want to see the SP making a difference to their lives. How the SP now proceeds is crucial. The party can adopt fighting, socialist policies, based on the interests of working people. Or the leadership can continue shifting the SP towards entering coalition government. The SP’s entry into local and provincial coalition administrations with right wing parties, and, moreover, the prospect of the party joining a future right-dominated national coalition government, poses the possibility of the SP losing much of its electoral and working class support. This could lead to widespread disillusionment amongst working people and youth. Smaller hard right parties and racists could make further gains, tapping into general disillusionment with all the main parties.
“Nationality” issue dominated election
The nationalist/racist PVV party (Party for Freedom) dominated debate during the recent provincial election campaign. The PVV demanded the new government’s ministers and parliamentarians should not have dual nationality and questioned whether or not politicians with two passports were “loyal” to the Netherlands (two government ministers hold dual passports, Dutch and Turkish and Moroccan). This got an echo in Dutch society. The far right PVV did not take part in the provincial elections, as it could not find enough “suitable candidates”, but the right wing VVD party seemed to profit from the racist mood stirred up. It got 18% in the provincial elections and held onto its seats in the upper house. In contrast, last November, the VVD lost seats to the PVV.
This shows the dangers of a rise of racism and bigotry, fanned by demagogic, right wing politicians, if the workers’ movement and SP does not show the way ahead with clear, pro-worker policies.
The new coalition government may gain a measure of stability from the election results. But the polls show, once again, society is becoming increasingly polarised, along broad left and right lines. As an indication of the radicalization amongst many in Dutch society, and the search for an alternative, the pro- animal rights’ party, the PvdD, a newcomer to provincial elections, took 9 (2.5%) of the 564 seats up for grabs in this week’s elections.
Union struggles are on the agenda, as well. Government cuts, particularly if there is a recession, will be very unpopular. The coalition Labour Party (PvdA) may try to put the breaks on the worst cuts, as the SP eats into its support. But even if there is a more gradual process of neo-liberalist policies, cuts will still be highly unpopular. It will become clear to the majority of working people the government cannot solve deep problems in health care, education, transport etc.
The Socialist Party is faced with a great opportunity to build on its electoral gains and to widen support. To be successful, the SP needs to adopt bold socialist policies. A full discussion and debate among the party membership on the way forward is urgently needed. The Dutch working class urgently cries out for a campaigning party, with independent working class policies, to lead the fight-back against the coalition government. In this way, the SP could contest the next elections from a powerful position and aim to form a majority socialist government.