Election Day In Holland... Today
Emile Roemer struggling against Big Business to save Holland from Austerity
I consider myself very lucky to have lived all over the world. Aside from the U.S., though, the country I lived in longest-- and the country that had the profoundest impact on me-- was Holland. Amsterdam gave me sanctuary when the U.S. was making war against Vietnam and I didn't have the intestinal fortitude to live in my own birthplace. I found Amsterdam to be the ultimate live-and-let-live society. I think I am, at least in part, who I am today because I spent 4 years there; it's like a second home and, of course, I still have close friends there. And Ik Spean een beetje Nederlands. So, of course I follow the politics there. Today the Dutch at voting for a new government.
There are 150 members of their lower House of Parliament-- and so many parties that it's all about coalitions, not about one party winning enough seats on its own. Now, keep in mind that no incumbent government has won reelection anywhere in EU since the start of the Austerity crisis. And Holland isn't going to be the first. It looks like the anti-Austerity Socialist Party is going to come out on top and Mark Rutte's governing right-wing VVD is going to take a big hit. But it's still all but certain that the moment elections are over tonight, building a governing coalition will begin.
Politicians are wary of talking about possible coalition partners before elections as they fear it could drive away voters.
But at the same time, they want to start forging the next coalition as soon as possible to stave off the image of a rudderless nation in the aftermath of the election. Rutte remains caretaker prime minister until the new government is formed and his administration will later this month present a government budget for 2013, regardless of the election result.
The leader of the House of Representatives, lawmaker Gerdi Verbeet, reportedly has earmarked Thursday afternoon for initial talks with leaders of the newly elected parties.
In the past, Queen Beatrix has steered the process, but lawmakers earlier this year voted to cut the monarch out of the Cabinet formation.
With the Dutch political landscape increasingly splintered-- 21 parties are running in the election and polls suggest 11 will win seats-- forming governments can take months, and even painstaking talks to hammer out policies all coalition partners can agree on are no guarantee the Cabinet will survive its four-year term.
The last election was June 9, 2010, and it was not until Oct. 14 of that year that Rutte was sworn in as premier and leader of a minority coalition propped up by anti-Islam lawmaker Geert Wilders.
Just 18 months later, the government collapsed when Wilders refused to support far-reaching austerity measures aimed at bringing the Dutch budget deficit back in line with European Union-mandated limits. Wednesday's election will be the fifth in the Netherlands in just over a decade.
We'll get back to putting together a coalition in a second. I just wanted to mention that Wilders is a deranged far right fascist very much in cahoots with the American Republican Party-- literally. Reuters broke the story on Monday how a bunch of crackpot right-wing groups in the U.S. took a little time out from raising money for the GOP to raise funds for Wilders, mostly because he's made himself a symbol of European Islamophobia, very much the way Hitler made himself a symbol of anti-Semitism in the 1930s. Several American right-wing extremists and notorious bigots and hatemongers, like David Horowitz, Daniel Pipes and Pamela Geller have been secretly funneling money into Wilder's political career, a practice of dubious legality.
David Horowitz, who runs a network of Los Angeles-based conservative groups and a website called FrontPage magazine, said he paid Wilders fees for making two speeches, security costs during student protests and overnight accommodation for his Dutch bodyguards during a 2009 U.S. trip.
Horowitz said he paid Wilders for one speech in Los Angeles and one at Temple University in Philadelphia. He declined to specify the amounts, but said that Wilders had received "a good fee."
When Wilders' Philadelphia appearance sparked student protests, Horowitz said, he paid a special security fee of about $1,500 to the Philadelphia police department. Horowitz said he also paid for overnight accommodation for four or five Dutch government bodyguards accompanying Wilders on the trip.
Wilders said in response: "I am frequently asked to speak abroad. Whenever possible I accept these invitations. I never ask for a fee. However, sometimes the travel and accommodation expenses are paid. My personal security is always paid for by the Dutch government."
Pipes and Horowitz denied funding Wilders' political activities in Holland. Both run non-profit, tax exempt research and policy organizations which, under U.S. tax laws, are forbidden from giving direct financial backing to any political candidate or party. U.S. law does allow such groups to support policy debates financially.
During Wilders' visit to Los Angeles, where Horowitz runs an organization called the David Horowitz Freedom Center, Horowitz said he organized an event at which Danish cartoons lampooning the Prophet Mohammed were auctioned. He said he did not remember how much money this event raised or what happened to the proceeds.
Horowitz agreed with the Dutchman's repeated, public comparison of the Koran to Hitler's Mein Kampf. Comparing the two works was a "fair analogy," Horowitz said. He said Wilders was "fighting the good fight."
Horowitz said U.S. backers helped Wilders raise money to pay legal fees to fight a ban from visiting Britain in 2009, where he planned to screen Fitna. The British government said at the time: "The Government opposes extremism in all its forms. The decision to refuse Wilders admission was taken on the basis that his presence could have inflamed tensions between our communities and have led to inter-faith violence."
I suspect no one wants to get into a coalition with Wilders' fascists-- but, as we've already seen, the right won't hesitate if it means they can maintain power for themselves. Commitment to a united Europe has dissipated in Holland, once the most staunchly pro-Europe countries. Many feel it came too fast and it shouldn't have come before they were able to turn "lazy" southerners into prim and proper little Dutchmen-- or at least Germans. And Dutch voters don't like bailouts any more than the German voters do. Nevertheless, betting is that Rutte's center-right part and the center-left Labor Party will form a coalition after the election, especially with Labor succeeding (in the opinion polls) in stealing votes away from the Socialists. Labour's leader, Diederik Samson is expected to be the next Prime Minister, so a turn a little tiny bit left, but not really Left in a way that would save Holland from the Austerity agenda.
Emile Roemer, the Socialist Party leader has said that "Over the past 20 years, Europe has been for the biggest businesses and the financial markets, and not for the common people" and there seemed to be a chance he would pull it off. But he seems to have gone over less well in the debates and it's now iffy whether or not the Socialists can exploit the hatred of austerity to actually come out on top.
What's certain is that the Dutch political landscape is likely to fragment significantly after this election. Polls predict the new parliament will have five or six parties with at least 10% of the vote each, and four or more smaller parties. A coalition consisting of at least three parties seems inevitable... [I]t's unlikely that either Wilders' or Roemer's party will join the new cabinet. The centre parties share many positions on the eurozone crisis: they are all in favour of the rescue of the euro and the budget deficit standard of 3% – they only disagree on whether this standard should be applied this year or later.
The other key factor that should bar Wilders and Roemer from government is their stance on the important social reforms-- such as greater flexibility of the labour market, healthcare cost containment and reform of the housing market-- that have been postponed for years. Rutte's conservatives and Samsom's Labour party disagree on who should pay for healthcare, housing and employment reforms, but they do agree that reforms are inevitable. With the SP and PVV as partners in cabinet, they would become practically impossible.
Of course, even if Wilders and Roemer stayed outside government, they would influence the tone of the political debate in the Netherlands. To an extent, they have already done so.
Many have predicted that after years in the sunshine, Wilders' party would lose votes in 2012. But the latest polls only indicate a marginal drop-off. As for the Socialists: although the SP will probably not become the second-largest party, they will gain more seats.
It's hard to avoid the conclusion that popular support for the euro is weakening. Opinion polls indicate a growing scepticism towards the current euro funds for southern Europe. In the last televised debate, Rutte said that no new funds should be made available for Greece, and refused to sign up to the statement saying that "everything should be done to save the euro". For now, though, such soundbites are little more than campaign rhetoric.
UPDATE... From Holland
by Nicky Van Bottenburg
When I lived in Holland, Nicky's mom was just a child, the daughter of one of my colleagues from work, Bart. Bart introduced me to his grandson a few months ago when our friends Ellen and Paula got married. Today Nicky's a business student in Amsterdam and a Stephen Colbert fanatic. He probably knows more about American politics than most kids his age here in the U.S. but I asked him to write up the Dutch election results for us. He just sent this update.
As we near the 100% of the 75% turnout of the Dutch population older then 18, a clearer prognosis is being made, and center right VVD & center left Labor Party (PVDA) are going to be the big winners. Dutch newspaper Algemeen Dagblad will open with: “Giants slaughter little one.” Both parties together are likely too have more than the necessary 75 seats in the House of Representatives to have a majority in the parliament making the third party nothing more than a formality. And whoever will be the prime minister, Mark Rutte (VVD) or Diederik Samsom (PVDA), will need the other and vice versa.
Almost as surprising as the big win for the moderate political forces, is the big drop of the PVV of Geert Wilders and the smaller than expected turnout for Emile Roemer's Socialist Party. One of the causes is the Anti-Europe stand of both parties, where Wilders did research for bringing back the Dutch Gilder and Roemer not seeing the necessity of listening to the dept. rules made by the European Union. Probably stepping out of the Europe is a step too far for most Dutch voters. Only possible all right-wing coalition for Rutte would be with Wilders, who has still around 15 seats, but not many parties would like to take that ride again. So a "purple government" is most likely.
Both parties blame the "tactical voter," voters who either don't want to see a right (VVD) parliament so voted for the moderate PVDA instead of the Socialists; or don't want to see PVDA so gave their PVV vote to the VVD. Normally D66 would be the victim of the tactical voter but it seems that PVV, SP, GroenLinks and CDA all saw there “floating voter” drift off to the bigger parties in the middle.
This can be seen as a call for an established middle where the bigger parties are joined by D66 (progressive and social-liberal political party) or CDA (The Christian Democratic Appeal, a Christian-Democratic party) where other parties like SP or PVV, which are more unstable, lose votes to Diederik and Mark. So as the De Volkskrant, another Dutch paper, headlines will say, “Het politieke midden is terug"-- The Middle Is Back.