Socialist Party Ahead of Ruling Liberals in Dutch Polls

Dutch Socialist Party leader Emile Roemer during a demonstration in The Hague, September 14, 2011 (SP Foto's)

Dutch Socialist Party leader Emile Roemer during a demonstration in The Hague, September 14, 2011 (SP Foto’s)

The far left Socialist Party is the largest in opinion polls in the Netherlands three months before parliamentary elections are scheduled to take place in the European country.

According to the most optimistic polls for the Socialists, they would nearly double their seats in the lower chamber of parliament from seventeen to thirty-two. Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s ruling liberal party loses five seats in the same survey and would be the second largest party with twenty-six seats.

No single party is predicted to win an absolute majority in September’s legislative election but a stable left or right wing coalition also seems unlikely to emerge.

The conservative christian democrats, traditionally in government with either the Labor or liberal party, wins just thirteen seats in the latest poll, down from twenty-one. Labor wins nineteen seats, down from thirty.

Under the leadership of former Greenpeace activist Diederik Samsom, who was elected in March, the Labor Party has positioned itself firmly on the left. Policy differences with the previously fringe Socialists are negligible which appears to pushed left wing voters to the flanks. The Socialist Party is seen as leading the opposition against the austerity measures favored by the right.

Both left wing parties want to raise taxes on Dutch making over €150,000 per year to either 60 or 65 percent which would give the Netherlands the highest maximum income tax rate in Europe by far. Sweden’s average top income tax rate is 56.6 percent.

Both Labor and the Socialists want to raise taxes on wealth as well and reduce a popular home mortgage interest deduction that the liberals have vowed to defend. Both also want to reverse market competition in education and health care and increase salaries for public workers.

Labor and the Socialist Party were in the minority in April when they voted against a budget deal that had been done by the ruling conservatives and liberals and opposition centrists and Greens. That agreement, which raises taxes and reduces spending in order to bring the government’s deficit under 3 percent of gross domestic product next year in compliance with European fiscal treaty, came after budget talks between the coalition and Geert Wilders’ nationalist Freedom Party collapsed.

Rutte tendered his cabinet’s resignation when Wilders refused to abide by what he described as a European “diktat” to implement some €14 billion worth of austerity measures and he lost his majority in parliament. The Freedom Party had voted with the government since 2010 without delivering any ministers.

Although Wilders’ party is considered far right on law and order and immigration issues, its welfare policies are comparable to the Socialists’. Like the Socialists, he is also Euroskeptic although the former stop short of proposing that the Netherlands pull out of the European Union altogether.

Whether the Freedom Party is considered left or right wing, neither bloc will likely win a strong mandate in September. A coalition of the five centrist parties that formed April’s budget accord is possible except that it could need Labor’s support to secure a majority in both houses of parliament. That would produce a six party coalition, unprecedented even in the politically splintered Netherlands where there are currently eleven parties represented in parliament.

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