Classical Liberalism and Populism: A Subjective Review of the Dutch Election

The victory for the classical liberals in the Netherlands is reassuring in a time of populism.

Note: If you’re looking for our analysis of the Dutch election, please go HERE.  This article is an opinion piece.

The stories going into the 2017 Dutch Election were whether the “Dutch Donald Trump,” Geert Wilders, and his Party for Freedom would upend Dutch politics as we know it.  I would like to begin by saying that it is ridiculous to consider Wilders the Dutch version of Trump.  Geert Wilders wants to ban the Quran, close down Mosques, and kick out refugees.  That is not the same thing as Trump’s travel bans.  There are levels to right wing populism like any ideology, and Trump is moderate relative to Wilders and the PVV.  All the media does is anger Trump supporters even more by comparing him to extremists who he doesn’t agree with.

Now, to the Dutch election itself.  How I saw this election was the battling of a few ideological factions: the classical liberals/libertarians, the left, the Christian democrats, and the right wing populists (there’s not a real “conservative” center-right party in Dutch politics).  While I disagree with the very low 0.67% cutoff in the Dutch election (a 5% one gives much more stability), it allows us to really see the spread of opinions across Dutch politics; there is basically no such thing as a wasted vote when 13 parties make it into parliament.  There is something beautiful about that, as you really do have parliament reflecting the opinions of the people, and we get to see how popular those 4 factions are.

My findings are as follows (results from NOS):

  • Classical Liberals (VVD and D66): 33.3% of the vote and 52 seats
  • The Left (SP, GL, Labour, 50Plus, PvdD, and DENK): 32% of the vote and 49 seats
  • Christian Democrats (CDA, CU, and SGP): 18% of the vote and 27 seats
  • Right Wing Populists (PVV, FvD, and VNL): 15.3% of the vote and 22 seat

While there could be more sub-factions (especially in the left), I believe it is enough to look at these four, since each received a significant portion of the vote and is represented in slightly different ways by multiple parties.

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Mark Rutte’s conservative-liberal VVD lead the more libertarian faction with the market friendly social-liberal Democrats 66. (Photo from the Atlantic Sentinel)

As a right-libertarian, I was happy to see the classical liberals as the largest faction, something that is rare across world politics.  I was especially pleased to see the conservative-liberal VVD win the election once again, holding strong against more right wing populist challenges.  While I disagree with the more left-libertarian Democrats 66 on some economic issues, they are far better than the left and some Christian democrats on economics and basically everyone on social issues (except on abortion, in which they are pro-choice).  The fact that these two parties received a third of the votes and hold 52 of the 150 seats in the House of Representatives is a great sign, since all the talk lately has been about the right wing populists.  Meanwhile the classical liberals have more silently delivered a win that will likely result in them aligning with the more moderate Christian democrats instead of the left or the right wing populists.  Hopefully this trend continues in the upcoming elections in France and Germany, though the French lack a real right-libertarian party.

It is also satisfying to see the chaos, and lack of success, on the left.  There has not been a leftist Prime Minister since 2002; CDA or VVD have led every government since then.  That situation has not been made any better for them with Labour absolutely falling apart and no one to replace them.  This is an opportunity for the classical liberals and center-right to have strong leadership with a solid majority in favor of market economics (the PVV’s one redeeming factor).  GroenLinks is rising, especially among young people, but there really isn’t a tier 1 party on the left to challenge the VVD for Prime Minister as the Socialist Party (the top left party currently) received only 9.2% of the vote and finished in 5th place.  To be fair, there’s a lot of leftist parties to divide the vote among, but it is difficult to unite your ideology when you’re so divided.  In short, the left in the Netherlands has been relegated to less than a third of the lower house and is not a real threat currently… good.

Meanwhile, the Christian democrats stayed fairly stagnant, as the CU and SGP received the same number of seats as before, but the CDA gained 6 seats.  I tend to be ambivalent at best about Christian democrats, as they tend to be socially conservative, especially the very reactionary SGP, and moderate when it comes to economics, so I’m glad that the VVD has continued to lead the center-right instead of the CDA.  Having the generic “right” led by a classical liberal instead of a Christian democratic party is a positive for both economic and social liberties.  That being said, they at least are somewhat pro-market, so a coalition of classical liberals and Christian democrats will hopefully lead to a more market based economy.

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Wilders’s PVV didn’t live up to expectations.

The right wing populists were the most covered faction in the election, especially from international media, but all the hoopla seems to have been for naught.  The right wing populist “wave” people were talking about seems to be less of a force than expected.  PVV only received 13.1% of the vote, and while they are definitely still a thorn in Rutte’s side, they are far from overturning Dutch politics.  More moderate right wing populists have managed to get a real foothold elsewhere, but Wilders’s extreme views have isolated him and his party, ensuring they have no role in future governments.  Forum for Democracy and For the Netherlands are much more moderate, and it would be best for the right wing populists to follow their path instead of alienating themselves along with Wilders’s blatant anti-Islam policies.  Overall, the 13.1% of the vote the PVV received is still too much.  The right-wing in the Netherlands is missing a free market and socially conservative party as I said before, and I think that is a real void that the PVV is taking advantage of.  If a major party or new party could move to try and fill that void, then the PVV would likely be pushed to the fringes where it belongs.  VNL seemed to be a group that could do that (since they’re more conservative than populist, though they are populist often in rhetoric), but they were too small to really make a different.

Libertarians should be pleased when we look at the results of the Dutch election, and we should learn from it.  The VVD has managed to place itself close enough to the right-wing void where it can appeal to both classical liberals and more traditional conservative who don’t like Wilders’s extremism and the CDA’s more moderate policies.  Mark Rutte has not always lived up to his promises, but his party is definitely the best major party in the country when considering the combination of economic and social policies.  Rutte’s VVD is put in a unique spot due to its more libertarian leanings, as they can align with more center-right and right-wing parties to push for economic liberty as well as D66 and some center-left parties to push for social liberty.  They hold enough seats to have a majority in both of those areas, being able to choose who they work with inside as well as outside of whatever coalition that results.  It is a unique role classical liberal parties play in politics, reaching across the traditional left-right spectrum in ways many social-democratic and conservative parties cannot.  The Netherlands is one of the few places we can see this in action, and we should be happy to have a classical liberal party in power, even if they are not “pure” libertarians.

I will conclude with my thoughts on potential coalitions and how the election will impact other elections coming up this year.

First, the coalitions.  My dream coalition would be between the VVD, D66, and VNL (or the Libertarian Party, which didn’t receive even 0.1% of the vote) as I believe each would bring a unique element that is needed.  Since VNL didn’t make it into parliament and the classical liberals are short of a majority, that is not possible.  In reality, the most likely coalition is VVD, D66, CDA, and a 4th party that has 5 seats or more.  Two parties reasonably would fit the criteria to work with those three, Labour and the Christian Union.  The Labour Party is most likely going to try to avoid being in the government since the populous punished them for allowing the VVD to pass austerity, so the Christian Union will probably be the 4th party.  As I said before, there are many positives, especially on economics for this coalition, and there is potential for D66 to have a positive impact on social liberty as well, combined with the pro-life policies of the other three parties.  This makes me optimistic for the Netherlands, and it will definitely be interesting to watch how things unfold going forward in the country.

The upcoming French and German elections may be impacted by these results, but we can’t be certain.  Firstly, the National Front and Alternative for Germany are both more moderate than the Party for Freedom, so Wilders may have just gone too far.  That being said, 13.1% of the vote is a significant chunk, making it harder for a coalition to form, especially when people refuse to work with the right wing populists.  Alternative for Germany is expected to receive less of the vote than the Party for Freedom did, but the National Front may make larger inroads into French politics.  We will have to wait and see, but for right now, right wing populists in Europe seem to be a thorn in the side of people forming coalitions instead of leading coalitions themselves.

Review: 2017 Dutch Parliamentary Election

Prime Minsiter Rutte’s VVD managed to remain the largest party despite being challenged by populist Geert Wilders’s Party for Freedom. (Photo from DW)

With 28 parties on the ballot, the Dutch election was going to be chaotic no matter the result.  An unpopular coalition government combined with the right wing populist “wave” across Europe caused some questions about what the outcome would be (as we discussed in our election preview).  Eleven parties made it into the House of Representatives following the 2012 election, and that number is set to expand this year as well.

The big story of the day is Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s conservative-liberal People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) defending their title of largest party, outperforming polls and our own projections.  Ipsos exit polling showed them at around 31 seats, higher than the polling predictions between 24 and 28 seats, and the updated results from NOS show them at 32 seats.  The right wing populist and anti-Islam PVV also fell outside our predicted range of 20 to 28 seats, being projected to receive only 19 seats.  The last second swing is likely due to the recent controversy involving Rutte kicking out Turkish ministers who attempted to visit, hoping to stop the visiting ministers from impacting the election.  The Dutch overwhelmingly saw it as strong leadership, something Wilders had criticized Rutte for lacking.

The exit polls showed that 13 parties will enter parliament, making future coalition negotiations very difficult.

Updated results via NOS showed that that coalition building may be easier than expected, as the VVD over-performed in combination with the center-right Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) and market-friendly liberals Democrats 66 (D66) both rising as well in recent weeks.  These three parties would just short of a majority, and adding the Christian Union (CU) or Labour Party as a 4th coalition member would give them a majority.  This is a far better scenario for the VVD than the 5 or 6 party coalitions we had predicted.

The success of these three parties has been seen as a vote of confidence in favor of the EU and shows that right wing populism may not be as strong as predicted, having serious ramifications for the upcoming French and German elections in which the National Front and Alternative for Germany have upset the norm in each country’s political climate.  The country saw a very high 81% turnout which seems to have worked in favor of the more pro-EU parties instead of the populist ones.

Meanwhile on the left, the left-wing green party, GroenLinks (GL), has grown significantly under the leadership of the young Jesse Klaver.  His youthful energy has made GroenLinks a significant force on the left (rising from 4 to 14 seats), as Labour has collapsed; Labour’s fall from 38 to 9 seats is the largest loss of seats in Dutch political history.  The other leftist parties had little change.  The Socialists may lose one of their 15 seats, the Party for the Animals gained 3 additional seats (bringing their total to 5), 50Plus’s last minute drop in the polls meant that they only gained an additional 2 seats (4 total), and finally the new DENK party entered parliament with 3 seats.  Overall, the election was a defeat for the left, as they in total only earned 50 seats.

Victory
Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s “People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy” are celebrating a victory over Wilders’s “Party for Freedom” despite losing seats. (Photo from AP)

In general the right had more success, despite VVD’s losses (33 seats compared to 41 before).  The rest of the right made gains: the Party for Freedom gained 5 seats (20 total), Christian Democratic Appeal gained 6 seats (19 total), Christian Union gained stayed even at 5 seats, the Reformed Political Party stayed even at 3 seats, and the more moderate right wing populist Forum for Democracy entered parliament for the first time with 2 seats.  For the Netherlands received only 0.4% of the vote, failing to break the 0.67% cutoff.

Democrats 66, a more market friendly social-liberal party that is hard to place explicitly on either side of the spectrum, gained 7 seats to reach a total of 19.  They are very likely to be part of whatever coalition that results from the election as they are related to the conservative-liberal VVD.

Party leaders offered their opinions on the results in various fashions.  According to CNN, Wilders took to Twitter, focusing on the gained seats instead of his loss to VVD, stating “PVV voters thanks. We won seats, first victory is in. Rutte hasn’t got rid of me yet.”  The aforementioned Prime Minister considered the election a defeat of populism, “This is a night for the Netherlands… After Brexit, after the US election, we said ‘stop it, stop it’ to the wrong kind of populism.”  The feeling around Europe has also been reassurance that “Nexit” is not the next crisis in the European Union, and the Euro is likely to be stronger following this result.


Winners

Mark Rutte: The Prime Minister’s party suffered the loss of 8 seats, but he managed to use a last minute crisis with the Turkish ministers to his advantage, easily seeing off the challenge of Geert Wilders, who had led in polling for months.  He will most likely be Prime Minister once again, and VVD is currently unchallenged for the top spot in Dutch politics after the fall of Labour.

The Party for Freedom: This may seem like a shock due to the headlines saying Wilders was a dud, but his party finished in second place and gained 5 seats.  They have become a force in Dutch politics and the other parties must be aware of them from now on.  Wilders changed the game, and the talking points, so he won, just not in the way he had hoped.

The European Union: It is safe to say there were worries about the euroskeptics (PVV, SP, and FvD) in the Netherlands.  This election was a barometer of the support for the EU, and populism on the right and the left seems to be weaker than feared.  Those three parties combined gained a net of only 6 seats, hardly a large anti-EU push.

Classical-Liberal/Libertarians: The two parties in the libertarian part of the spectrum, VVD and D66, finished in 1st and 4th respectively.  Combined they lost 1 seat, but in total hold 52 seats now; that is over one-third of the House of Representatives.  With only 2 parties in the ideological faction, they managed to win more seats than both the left (49 seats) and more “pure” right (49 seats if you don’t include VVD).  This makes the Netherlands one of the strongest countries when it comes to classical-liberal parties.

GroenLinks: The Greens have jumped their way into the major party fight, gaining 10 seats and earning 8.9% of the vote.  Despite the fact they only finished in 6th, GL was only 0.3% of the vote away from being the strongest leftist party.  They are on the rise and could be a force to reckon with since there is a void in leadership to fill with Labour falling.

Losers

The Labour Party: Labour suffered the biggest defeat ever seen in Dutch political history, falling from 2nd to 7th place.  They have been the strongest force on the left, but instead they suffered greatly from being the VVD’s junior-coalition partner.

The Left: Connected with Labour, the left in general is chaotic.  There is no longer one party leading it (as the VVD leads the right), and they only hold 49 seats.  Even if you try to lump in D66 with the left, which is debatable, they only hold 67 seats.  If they want to have a chance at leading a government any time soon, there needs to be significant changes made.


Even after the results become official, we won’t know the official coalition for a few weeks to potentially months, as Dutch coalition negotiations are known to take a long time.  We will post an update following the creation of a government as well as update this post when the results are final.  Tomorrow we will also be posting a subjective evaluation of the election apart from our more data focused analysis here.

Sources: CNN, BBC, AP, Bloomberg, Politico Europe, DW, various Twitter stories, and results from NOS.

2017 Bulgarian Parliamentary Election: A Preview

Will the 2017 parliamentary election end the instability of Bulgarian politics?

Overview

Now that we’ve set up the background and overview of Bulgarian politics, we can now take a took at their upcoming parliamentary elections, which will take place on March 26th of this year.

As we discussed in our overview, Bulgarian politics are fluid to the point that no government has been reelected since the fall of communism in 1990.  In fact, governing coalitions are often a minority government and do not even last the full 4 years.  The 4% cutoff allows anywhere between 4 and 8 parties to enter parliament, meaning anywhere from 2 to 4 parties are needed for a majority.  Recently the trend has been the formation of a minority coalition with non-coalition support from a third and/or fourth party.

With only one month left until the election there are still many questions surrounding the potential results and their legitimacy.  After controversy about voter fraud in 2013, it was mandated that voting machines be provided in every polling booth as an alternative to voting via paper, but almost no polling locations have requested a voting machine.  This could cause a problem with the Constitutional Court afterwards and is something to look out for as early voting has already been impacted.

Bulgaria is economically expanding but is facing new obstacles due to Russian sanctions and the political instability.  Business leaders are fearing whether a stable majority will finally be formed, preventing a solid basis for future expectations.  Will stability be created or will the current trend continue?  Let’s take a look.

Beyond the normal economic debates, the main issues of the election, like the presidential election before it, are the EU, Russian relations, and refugees from the Middle East.  Considering the country’s location relative to the Middle East and particularly Turkey, refugees are an increasingly prominent concern.  One of the main parties, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), is actually a party supporting Turkish and Muslim minority interests, showing the growing immigrant population within Bulgaria.

Polling and Projections

Polling
Opinion polls since the start of 2017 predict 5 or 6 parties will make it into parliament.  (Chart from Wikipedia)

Bulgarian polling data does not have an answer to the question of stability.  Currently 5 parties will almost certainly finish about the 4% cutoff point and Reformist Bloc is on the edge.  The current minority coalition of the center-right GERB and the Reformist Bloc (RB) parties, with the support of Patriotic Front and the Alternative for Bulgarian Revival (ABV), is unlikely to last due to RB’s drop from 8.89% in the previous election to polling around 4% this year.  Alternative for Bulgarian Revival are also unlikely to break the 4% cutoff and the Patriotic Front electoral alliance has merged with attack to become United Patriots (UP).  While GERB’s Prime Minister, Boyko Borisov, was forced to resign due to the results of the presidential election, his party’s popularity has not taken a large hit.  GERB received 32.67% of the vote in 2014 and are currently polling between 28% and 31.5% (depending on what polling company you look at), implying continued support for the party.

GERB’s main rivals, the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), are projected to make significant gains compared to the 2014 elections, in which they only received 15.4% of the vote.  Similarly to GERB, they are polling between 28% and 31.6%, making the battle for a plurality a tight race.  DPS, a liberal Muslim party that tends to favor coalitions with BSP, has taken the brunt of BSP’s rise in the polls; they are projected to drop from 14.84% of the vote to approximately 7% to 8.5%.

Two other groups (one alliance and one party) are expected to make it into parliament as well.  One of these is the right-wing United Patriots electoral alliance – consisting of Attack, the National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria, and the Bulgarian National Movement.  The latter two parties participated in the Patriotic Front electoral alliance in 2014, and this newer alliance is an attempt to unite the right-wing electoral campaign, preventing Attack from falling below the 4% mark.  Attack’s share of the vote has dropped in recent elections, so preventing them from falling below the 4% total keeps the right-wing stronger in parliament.  Compared to 2014, where the members total received 11.8% of the vote (7.28% for the Patriotic Front and 4.52% for Attack), UP is expected to receive between 9% and 12% of the vote.  Volya (also known as Will), a new party based around Varna-based businessman Veselin Mareshki, is also expected to enter parliament.  According to IntelliNews, “Mareshki describes Volya as a centre-right party of independent pragmatic people.”  Mareshki has also been compared to Donald Trump as an anti-establishment businessman turned politician.  Interestingly, in that IntelliNews article (and according to Novinite) he admitted to giving bribes in “the interest of Bulgarian citizens.”  This means his party has brought some interesting controversy with its rise, and polling data has ranged between 5% and 12% for the party, making it difficult to draw conclusions about the potential results of the party.  Two other parties that made it into parliament in 2014 will most likely not reach the 4% cutoff this year: Bulgaria Without Censorship and the Alternative for Bulgarian Revival.

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Vesselin Mareshki is looking to make a splash in Bulgarian politics with the rise of his Volya party. (Photo from Wikipedia)

Possible Coalitions

The two main factions are the BSP and DPS on the left and GERB, RB, and Volya on the right (plus possibly the member parties of UP if needed).  As we said earlier, the governing coalition is unlikely to continue as GERB and RB are both expected to lose seats.  They received approximately 41.5% of the vote in 2014 and will received around 31% to 34% of the vote this year.  The Reformist Bloc might not even break the 4% threshold, which would be a serious detriment to to GERB’s efforts.  Since Volya is more likely to align with GERB than BSP, their 5% to 12% could bring that vote total up to anywhere between 36% and 46% (it is probable that the three parties will receive combined around 39 to 43% to give a slightly more accurate range).  That will most likely not not be enough to form a majority coalition, especially if RB fails to reach 4%.  BSP’s gains are partly offset by DPS’s losses, but combined they will make gains.  Combined they earned just over 30% of the vote in 2014 and will receive between 35% and 40% of the vote this year.  The result: neither of the main left or right “preferred” coalitions are possible.

Since these pure center-right or center-left coalition are unlikely to receive a majority of seats, there are three possible agreements that could potentially be reached (barring a large swing in the polls between now and election day): A center-right coalition with right-wing (UP) support, a GERB led coalition with various supporting parties, or a center-left coalition with center-right or right-wing support.  The first of these is the most likely as it a similar one to the agreement reached following the 2014 election.  In this situation, the previously mentioned GERB led coalition would receive outside support from all or some of the United Patriots electoral alliance, which (besides Attack) supported the previous GERB led government.  Reminder: support means they agree to vote to approve the prime minister and cabinet, but the party does not receive any cabinet positions.  Assuming most or all of the UP members are willing to support GERB, their support would likely give them the required majority.  We have seen this scenario since 2014 be somewhat stable, but it is not the solid majority coalition that would solve the shakiness of Bulgarian politics.  The second scenario would be similar but there is a different mix of coalition members and supporting parties.  There is precedent for opposition support from DPS for GERB along with a mix of center-right and right-wing coalition partners and supporters.  A variety of outcomes could be possible here; an example is a coalition of GERB and RB with outside support from Volya along with part or all of UP and/or DPS.  The last time this happened was after 2009, when GERB was 4 seats away from the 121 seats needed for a majority and opposition parties gave support.  This would be much more unstable considering the governing coalition would have received less than 40% of the vote, and relying on outside support usually leads to problems.  The final scenario is only if GERB does not have a path to a majority, as this is a long-shot attempt that was tried and failed after the 2013 election.  In this case, BSP and DPS form a coalition (as they did is 2013) and require outside support from the center-right or right-wing to govern.  In 2013, they attempted to create a mostly non-partisan and pragmatic parliament, receiving support from the right-wing Attack party since they only have 120 seats (exactly 50% instead of the needed 50% + 1).  This year, they would need support from either Volya or UP to reach a majority.  The 2013 agreement fell apart quickly, so this would be a shaky deal leading to instability.

Conclusion

To conclude our general preview of the election we must go back to the question of whether the instability of government formation will continue.  The answer is almost certainly yes.  In proportional-style elections that don’t have a solid majority from either main faction we often look for a centrist king-maker party to be a junior-coalition partner for stability, but Bulgaria lacks a party of that style.  DPS seems to the main “3rd party” that could fill that role, but they appear unwilling to form a coalition across ideological lines with GERB (and RB on the other side not working with BSP).  The strength of the right-wing and right-wing-populist parties in Bulgaria make this problem even worse, as they are almost always unwilling to form a stable coalition with the center-right, even if the “right” in total has a majority (as it does here).   These factors mean that the instability of governments that we have seen in the past will continue after the 2017 election, no matter who leads the coalition building.

In our next few posts will will discuss the specifics of each party: their election results, ideologies, liberty ratings, and projections.

Politics of Bulgaria: An Overview

The next country we will focus on in 2017 is Bulgaria, as their election on the 26th of March will be the second major one of the year.

Bulgarian politics are fluid and often unstable.  An assassination attempt in 2013 and three straight early elections are just two parts of the Eastern European country’s fluctuating political atmosphere.  We will provide an overview of the country’s politics ahead of the 2017 election.

Bulgaria normally holds a parliamentary election every 4 years, but early elections were called ahead of schedule due to the resignation of Prime Minister Boyko Borisov in November of 2016.   His center-right “Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria” (GERB) party candidate, Tsetska Tsacheva, lost the 2016 presidential election in the second round with only 36.16% of the vote.  Though the president is merely a formality in Bulgarian politics, like most parliamentary republics, the defeat showed that people no longer had confidence in the GERB-led coalition government.

Boyko Borisov, Prime Minister, Bulgaria
Former Prime Minister Boyko Borisov was forced to resign for a second time following his party’s defeat in the 2016 presidential elections. (Photo from Getty Images)

In our next post we will give a full preview of the 2017 election, but first we need to examine how the Bulgarian election system works and what the country’s electoral history looks like.

The unicameral parliamentary system Bulgaria uses places the most of the power in the national assembly, which then selects the prime minister with a majority vote.  Members of the parliament are selected from multi-member constituencies via a closed-party list, meaning that people vote for a party instead of an individual, and seats are allocated from each constituency.  Without getting bogged down in the detail, this means that a party (or alliance of parties) needs 4% of the vote to receive a proportional number of seats in the parliament.  Unlike the Dutch system’s 0.67% cutoff that we covered in previous posts, this 4% cutoff places stricter conditions on entering parliament, meaning less parties are usually required to form a governing coalition.  This coalition selects the prime minister, who then forms a cabinet.

Historically, Bulgaria had their first free elections in 1990 with the decline of Soviet Union, making it a relatively young republic.  In 2007, 17 years later, the country joined the European Union along with neighboring Romania, but it is outside of the Eurozone, keeping it someone independent of the Euro crisis and dulling euroskepticism in the country.  That being said, right-wing-populism is present with the creation of the “United Patriots” electoral alliance, consisting of three nationalist parties (Attack, Bulgarian National Movement, and National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria), in 2016.

In parliamentary elections, the government has never been reelected since the fall of communism, displaying the fluid and often unstable nature of Bulgarian politics.  The previous two elections were also early after protests over austerity rattled the GERB led government in 2013, leading to slightly early elections.  The resulting Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) and Turkish interest Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) government then resigned in mid 2014 due to more protests, forcing another election.  This inability of three governments in a row to serve for all 4 years is a dangerous trend for the country.

With that historical overview covered, let’s take a deeper look at the previous two parliamentary elections and most recent presidential and European elections to see if a trend emerges ahead of this year’s.

As we covered before, the 2013 election came on the heels of the (first) resignation of Prime Minister Borisov and his GERB party.  Widespread protests and unpopularity of many parties was rampant throughout the country, including an attempted assassination of DPS party leader Ahmet Dhogan during a lived televised speech.  The election saw a large increase in support for the left-wing “Coalition for Bulgaria” electoral alliance (now called “BSP for Bulgaria”), consisting of the Bulgarian Socialist Party and many smaller left-wing parties.  They received 26.61% of the vote and gained 44 additional seats in the national assembly, bringing their total to 84 (out of 240).  GERB received 30.54% of the vote, losing 20 seats and bringing their total to 97 seats, still holding a plurality.  The liberal-center Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) received 11.31% of the vote, losing 1 seat and finishing with 36 seats.  The only other party to finish above the 4% cutoff was the right-wing-populist and pro-Russia “Attack”, who received 7 seats.  Controversy was rampant about voter fraud following the election, causing a rocky start to the resulting BSP and DPS government, which lasted just over a year before dissolving.

assassination-attempmt
DPS Party Leader Ahmet Dhogan survived an assassination attempt ahead of the 2013 election by fighting back against the attacker seen on the right.  (Photo from the NY Daily News)

Just before the dissolution, the government’s popularity (or lack thereof) was presented in the 2014 European parliamentary election in May.  GERB finished with 30.4% of the vote and 6 of the 17 seats, Coalition for Bulgaria (BSP’s alliance) received 18.93% of the vote and 4 seats, DPS received 17.27% of the vote and 4 seats, the new euroskeptic Bulgaria Without Censorship party received 10.66% of the vote and 2 seats, and the new Christian-Democratic Reformist Bloc received 6.45% of the vote and 1 seat.  Attack, who had indirectly supported the government, fell from 11.96% to 2.96%, losing all of their seats in the European Parliament.  The results of the election showed that the already minority coalition between the BSP and DPS did not have even 40% of the vote, and the prime minister resigned by the end of July, only 2 months later.

The BSP’s struggles continued, as 2014 parliamentary election punished the socialists for their unpopular governing.  They fell to 15.4% of the vote (down from their previous 26.61%), finishing with only 39 seats, 45 less than after the 2013 election.  Interestingly, GERB did not benefit directly from BSP’s fall in seats, despite receiving 32.67% of the vote (up 2.13% from 2014), as 8 parties entering the parliament (instead of the 4 after 2013) caused the seats to be more divided among the parties.  They still received 84 seats, far more than their BSP counterparts.  DPS finished close behind BSP with 14.84% of the vote (up 3.53% from 2014) and 38 seats, not receiving the punishment that their senior coalition partner did.  Five other parties managed to receive more than the required 4% of the vote: the Reformist Bloc (8.89% and 23 seats), Patriotic Front (now know as United Patriots:7.28% and 19 seats), Bulgaria Without Censorship (5.69% and 15 seats), Attack (4.52% and 11 seats), and Alternative for Bulgarian Revival (4.15% and 11 seats).  The larger number of parties caused coalition negotiations to be more difficult, but eventually GERB and the Reformist Bloc (RB) formed a minority coalition supported by the Patriotic Front and Alternative for Bulgarian Revival (ABV).  Minority coalitions such as this tend not to last the whole 4 years, and this one was no different.

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The Independent Pro-Russia candidate, Rumen Radev, won a decisive presidential victory with the support of the BSP.  (Photo from PressTV)

The popularity of that minority coalition was tested when Prime Minister Borisov put his hopes in Tsetska Tsacheva for the 2016 presidential election and vowed to resign if she lost.  The two major candidates, the independent but BSP supported Rumen Radev and Tsacheva for GERB, received 25.44% and 21.96% respectively in the first round of the election.  While this was conceivably a close result, the second round was a decisive victory for Radev, who received 59.37% of the vote to Tsacheva’s 36.16% (percentages don’t add up to 100% due to the available “none of the above” option).  The result was considered to be a vote of no confidence for the GERB led government, and Borisov resigned as he promised.

Looking at these elections over the past 4 years gives us a decent overview of where Bulgarian politics is.  There is a constant struggle to hold onto a majority, and the rise of the right-wing-populist “United Patriots” electoral alliance will likely continue to make a majority coalition difficult.  We will have to see if this year’s election, which we will preview in our next post, can change that trend.  Hopefully this has been enough of a basic overview as we begin to cover the Bulgarian election.  After a general preview we will have an analysis of each major party ahead of the election.

More information: Elections in Bulgaria, 2017 Election, Bulgarian National Assembly

2017 Dutch Parliamentary Election: A Preview

Now that we’ve set up the background and overview of Dutch politics, we can now take a took at their upcoming parliamentary elections, which will take place on March 15th of this year.

As discussed in our earlier overview, forming a coalition is tricky business in the Netherlands.  Even after parties have formed a coalition, their agreements often fall apart, causing early elections.  This all comes from the low cutoff point (0.67%) that a party must achieve to enter into parliament and receive proportional representation.  As a result, there are 11 parties in the Dutch parliament instead of the between 3 and 7 in many other proportional system with a higher cutoff.  While it allows people to have a wider variety of parties to choose from, it also causes chaos when forming a government, something that may be very relevant come March 16th when the winner is trying to form a government.

Today is January 15th in the Netherlands.  In two months Dutch voters will go to the polls and vote for a new parliament.  Will the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) and Labour Party coalition be renewed for another term?  Will the right-wing populist and Euroskeptic “Party for Freedom” (PVV) upset the pro-EU balance of power?  Let’s take a look at how things currently stand with two months to go.

Before we look at the opinion polls, let’s see what issues are central to the Dutch election.  Credit goes to Hans Vollaard of Leiden University for much of the following information on the issues.  While there are a variety of issues that matter in any election, immigration, the EU, and austerity are central to this one.  The VVD, as Vollaard describes, “is in favour of fiscal austerity and a (European) free market, while it also advocates tough anti-crime and anti-terrorism policies, and is strict on migration and integration”, while Democrats 66 is very in favor of multiculturalism, and PVV is anti-Austerity, Euroskeptic, wants to ban the Koran, shut down Mosques, and ban immigration from Muslim countries.  With such a major party holding very different positions from that of the VVD and other center-right parties it is difficult to imagine how they ever reached an agreement back in 2010.  The retirement age is also extremely important, and, according to Vollaard, the Socialists, PVV, and 50Plus want it to remain 65 while the VVD and Labour government has started the process of raising it.  The Socialists are also pushing for reforms in the healthcare field, which is currently based on market competition, and instead push for more state control.  Because of these issues, the election is extremely divisive, which shows up extensively in the polls.

Most opinion polling is done in an interesting fashion in the Netherlands: by number of seats projected instead of % of the vote, so most of my analysis will be focused on those numbers.  What do these opinion polls tell us about the fate of the VVD-Labour “Purple Government” (thank you to contributors to Wikipedia for providing opinion polling here)?  They tell us the coalition is doomed.  The VVD used to consistently lead in the polls, but since September of 2015, the PVV has consistently been the top party, with the VVD falling into second and only occasionally beating the PVV (normally in Ipsos polls, a group that has consistently shown right-wing populist parties at lower numbers than other polling companies).  Now, if Ipsos is right, then the battle for first place is going to be extremely close between the conservative-liberals and the populists, yet even if they are right then forming a coalition is going to be very difficult.

Updated Polling
(March 9th update): PVV has steadily dropped since the start of 2017 and VVD has started to lead in more recent polls.

There are 150 seats in the Dutch House of Representatives.  This means a coalition need 76 seats to reach even a weak majority.  According to the trend of recent polling, of which there is plenty, the PVV will receive between 26 seats (if you listen to Ipsos) and 36 seats (they hold 15 seats currently).  (March 9th update) Since the PVV peaked in December, they have steadily dropped in polls and are now projected to receive 20 and 28 seats compared to the 15 that they currently hold.  Even Ipsos is showing the PVV around 29 seats in their most recent poll: bad news for the VVD and the EU.  You may wonder why this is bad, as a strong right-wing government could possibly be formed.  That is possible, but after the failed coalition between the VVD, Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA), and PVV following the 2010 election and the PVV’s refusal to form a coalition with anyone after 2012, it’s unlikely that the PVV and VVD would be willing to form a coalition.  Even if they did, the VVD is expected to drop from the 41 seats they currently hold down to between 23 and 28 (with Ipsos showing them around the 28 mark).  This means that these two large parties would combined only have between 49 and 64 seats, with the most likely outcome somewhere in the mid 50s.  They would likely require 20 or more additional seats to reach a majority, but considering the PVV’s rather extreme rhetoric and unwillingness to work with anyone, it’s unlikely they could convince enough parties to work with them (since they’d likely lead the negotiations after receiving the most votes).  This all but takes away any possibility of the anti-austerity and anti-EU PVV managing to unite the right-wing and form a government.

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Leader of the PVV, Geert Wilders, has seen his party rising is the polls despite his conviction, and acquittal, for hate speech. (Michael Kooren/Reuters)

What about the left-wing parties?  They don’t look any better.  Labour has fallen apart just like their coalition partners.  They currently hold 38 seats in the House of Representatives but are likely to fall to around 10 seats or even potentially single digits.  For decades they’ve been the leaders of the left, but their support has crumbled.  While the VVD’s voters seem to have gone directly to the PVV, Labour’s seem to have been split between two smaller parties, 50PLUS (a pensioners’ party) and the GroenLinks Party (Green Left).  The Socialists are also projected to drop from 15 seats down to around 11 or 12, which is significant when it comes to forming a slim majority.  The support for left-wing parties is much more spread out since Labour has fallen apart.  If you combine Labour, GroenLinks, and the Socialists (the three main traditional center-left to left-wing parties) then you reach a measly 35 seats, not even 25% of parliament.  If they reach out even more and try to work with 50plus (which is questionable but possible) and the liberal center to center-left D66 (not the conservative-liberal VVD), then things still don’t look good.  Add to that 35 the Democrats 66’s (D66) projected 15 seats and 50Plus’s 10 seats then they are still 16 seats short with 5 parties already in the coalition.  They would have to stretch to add Christian Democratic Appeal’s (CDA) 15 seats, which wouldn’t be jumping with joy to work with the Socialists, and either the Party for the Animals or the Christian Union (CU), which wouldn’t be very excited about this coalition either.  That, or they’d need the VVD to join in, but that would make VVD the largest member of the coalition, giving them the Prime Minister position, which the Socialists are unlikely to accept.  If the leftists managed to gain a few more seats they might only need the CDA, but that’d still be 6 parties (more than half the parties in parliament).  This stretch seems too far to be reasonable, and it probably is.  I can’t see the CDA willing to work with the Socialists and GroenLinks.  Even if they managed to form the coalition, it would not last long, because it couldn’t last long.  Socialists, social-democrats, liberals, and Christian Democrats are not compatible in a single coalition.

We’ve removed any possibility of a right-wing coalition, Purple Coalition, and a Left-Wing/Liberal/Christian-Democrat coalition, so there only seems to be one possible outcome, and it isn’t much better.  The VVD, despite it’s fall, is still the second largest party and the largest that is willing to negotiate.  A coalition is possible if they begin with the Christian Democrats (CDA and CU), reaching between 42 and 48 seats.  Then they reach out to the other liberal party, D66, reaching between 60 and 66 seats.  Depending on where they are in that range (or even above or below) and how well other parties did, they would need either 50Plus or Labour (or both) to get over 76.  This also would require at least 5 parties if not 6, but it is more reasonable outcome considering there is precedent for liberals, Christian Democrats, and Social Democrats working together (example: Christian Democrats and Social Democrats in Germany, while Liberals often work with both sides in many countries).  Now, this is basically an insane coalition that would fall apart quickly, but it’s more reasonable than Socialists working with Christian Democrats and Liberals.  There are only so many cabinet positions to give out to coalition partners, and there’s not many parties likely to want a “support” agreement (coalition agreement but they receive no cabinet positions).

This would be possibly the craziest coalition in Europe, and if it (or the Left-Wing/Liberal/Christian-Democratic coalition) happens there will be very lengthy negotiations and, even if those succeed, the coalition will inevitably fall apart.  There will be simply too many ideologies in the government.  That is not how government formation is supposed to work, and the system simply cannot handle it.  Early elections after 2017 are likely to be the inevitable result.  The PVV, like many other anti-EU right-wing populist parties, is causing chaos in government formation.  There will be much uncertainty, as anti-EU and anti-immigrant sentiment is high in the Netherlands as it is across Europe.  A victory by the PVV will cause complex coalition negotiations in the Netherlands, and potentially point to trouble in the other parliamentary elections in France, Germany, and elsewhere this year.  There’s two months still to go, but unless there is a major change, the Netherlands are politically in for a very interesting 2017.

In our next few posts will will discuss the specifics of each party: their election results, ideologies, liberty ratings, and projections.

Politics of the Netherlands: An Overview

The first country we will focus on in 2017 is the Netherlands, since their election on the 15th of March will be the first major one of the year.

The politics of the Netherlands is fascinating due to the structure of their elections.  As a Constitutional Monarchy, the Netherlands does have King, Willem-Alexander, but for all intensive purposes the country is a parliamentary republic.  Because of this, our analysis will focus on the parliament and prime prime minister.  We cannot ignore that the country is one of the core members of the European Union as well a member of the Eurozone, two facts that have far reaching implications for Dutch politics, especially with the growing Euroskeptic and Right-Wing Populist parties across Europe and the Netherlands as well.

We will discuss this year’s election in our next post, but before we can have a real preview we need to understand where Dutch politics is at the moment.  As the Netherlands holds elections every 5 years, their most recent parliamentary elections were in 2012, but there was also a more recent European parliamentary election in 2014 that we can use for this analysis.

Before we look at the 2012 election, we’ll cover a quick overview of how the Dutch elections work.  The Dutch have a bicameral legislature, with the House of Representatives (Lower House) selected via proportional list by constituency with a 0.67% cutoff and the Senate (Upper House) selected by the states.  In plain English, seats in the House of Representatives are granted based on the results of the party, not individual candidates, as voters select a party.  Any party that receives 0.67% of the vote or higher receives an approximately proportional number of seats out of the 150 seats in the chamber.  This is an extremely low cutoff for a proportional style of election, as most countries set their cutoff much higher, often around 5%.  This means there are many more parties in the Dutch lower house than in most countries, creating possibly complicated situations when it comes to forming coalitions.  Why is this?  The Prime-Minister, the executive of the Netherlands, is selected by a majority House of Representatives, so parties that consist of over 50% of parliament must form a coalition to select the Prime Minister and ensure he has a stable government.  When there are more parties, it can often require more than two parties to form a coalition, making things more difficult.  The Senate has no role in this process and does very little besides approve what the House of Representatives passes, and it cannot submit legislation of its own.

Starting with the Dutch parliamentary election of 2012, we can analyze the status of the government and see how the same parties did in the 2014 election.  We will go further in depth about each party’s results in the party by party analysis of future post as an overview will work here (a table of the results is provided below).  Going into the 2012 election, the government consisted of weak right-wing coalition led by the conservative-liberal People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD).  Mark Rutte, head of the VVD, managed to form a coalition with the center-right to center leaning Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) and the Right-Wing Populist Party for Freedom (PVV), with the latter being merely “support” and receiving no cabinet positions.  He became the first VVD Prime-Minister ever but only lasted two years as his fragile coalition fell apart, triggering early elections.  The PVV was angered by Rutte’s attempts to cut the budget using austerity measures and pulled their support for the coalition.  This caused questions about what type of government would result from the 2012 election if the right-wing couldn’t unite.

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Map of the 2012 Dutch General Election.  The VVD (Dark Blue) and Labour (Dark Red) parties had the most success and formed a coalition.                   Map from Wikipedia

The 2012 election was a reassurance for the VVD, as they gained 10 seats additional seats, while the PVV lost 9 of its seats and the CDA lost 8.  With 11 parties making it into the parliament, reaching the 76 seats required for a majority would be difficult, even with the VVD’s winning of 41 seats.  Potential center or center-right coalition partners would not be enough, especially after the CDA lost over a third of its seats and the main opposition, the Labour Party, gained 8 more seats to reach 38.  As a result of the Netherlands’s low cutoff (0.67%) for parties to make it into parliament, the VVD were having difficulty finding a partner they could work with.  Weak coalitions and early elections are common in the Netherlands because of this low cutoff.  The VVD was forced into what could be considered a “Grand Coalition” or “Purple Government” between itself and the Labour Party, reaching a majority but having very different ideologies.  Features of the coalition agreement included EU required budget cuts and preventing officials from rejecting same-sex marriages.  The election was also seen as a victory for the EU within the country, as the Euroskeptic PVV lost support significantly, while the VVD and Labour parties strongly favored the EU.  (If you’d like a more in-depth analysis of the 2012 election, a great page is here)

The 2014 European elections reflected the 2009 European elections, but were very different from the 2012 domestic results.  These differences are mainly caused by the EU parties that the domestic parties are a part of.  The Netherlands is given 26 seats in the European parliament, distributed proportionally (differently than the domestic cutoff).  The Christian Democratic Appeal was aligned with the largest center-right European parliamentary group, the European People’s Party, and received the largest % of the vote in the 2009 elections (20%).  In this election, their election failure from 2012 continued here as they dropped to 15% of the vote, finishing second behind Democrats 66, a center-left liberal party that is a member of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe parliamentary group.  Due to the differences between European and Dutch elections, there isn’t too much we can learn from the results themselves, but the trends can show us where public opinion has trended.  Notably, the Labour party dropped 2.5%, falling to single digits and falling behind the Socialist party, which gained 2.5%.  This was not a good sign for the Labour Party, which has been one of the Netherland’s strongest parties for decades, and it foreshadows their problems that we will discuss more in our next article on the 2017 election.  The Party for Freedom also lost 3.5%, seemingly showing a drop in their popularity, or at least increased loyalty to the EU, as the PVV is a Euroskeptic party.  The VVD, also part of the ALDE group with Democrats 66, finished in 4th, with their results almost the same, a 0.6% gain.  While these elections can’t show us what will happen in the future, they foreshadowed the Labour party’s future struggles, but not the rise of the PVV that we will speak about in the next post.

Perhaps surprisingly, the coalition of the VVD and Labour parties has lasted the full five years.  The chaotic government formations that are prevalent in Dutch politics are unlikely to end anytime soon.  This makes the Dutch elections some of the most fascinating in Europe and the rest of the world.  We’ll preview the 2017 election in our next post.  Hopefully this has been a helpful overview for you.  It should be enough to give you a general idea of what is going on without getting lost in the details.  If you want to get lost in the details, then look for our posts on each individual party, as we’ll provide overviews as well as details on their positions.