Dutch Abandon Ruling Parties in Local Elections

Dissatisfied with Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s economic policy, Dutch voters punish the coalition parties.

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte and Labor Party leader Diederik Samsom answer questions from reporters in The Hague, September 17, 2012
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte and Labor Party leader Diederik Samsom answer questions from reporters in The Hague, September 17, 2012 (EPA)

The Netherlands’ ruling left- and right-wing parties suffered defeats in municipalities across the country on Wednesday, reflecting widespread discontent with their national economic policy.

Despite a third of the votes going to local parties, the elections for city and town councils were seen as a referendum on Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s government, which has been in office since late 2012.

With turnout just over 50 percent and the ruling parties losing nearly 10 percent support nationwide, it was a damning inditement.

Disappointed rightwingers

Polls give Geert Wilders’ nationalist Freedom Party, the fourth largest in parliament, more seats than either Labor or Rutte’s liberals.

The two got over 50 percent support in the last election.

However, Wilders’ party, which was founded in 2006, only competed in the cities of Almere and The Hague. Center-right voters elsewhere who were dissatisfied with Rutte’s broken election promises not to raise taxes and reduce government spending defected to the conservative Christian Democrats and the centrist liberal Democrats.

Labor loses in the cities

Labor’s voters disapprove of the government’s policy to close nursing homes and reduce social housing.

The party’s biggest losses came in the major cities.

In Amsterdam, the capital, and Groningen, the biggest city in the north, both of which have been under a Labor government for more than half a century, the liberal Democrats took 26 and 21 percent of the votes, respectively.

In Utrecht, Labor lost half its seats and placed third, behind the Greens.

In the port city of Rotterdam, it placed second after a local conservative party.

Preview

The bad showing could destabilize Rutte’s coalition, which lacks a majority in the upper chamber of parliament where the government depends on the liberal Democrats and small Christian parties to enact legislation.

The outcome could also be a preview for European Parliament elections in May, when Wilders, a Euroskeptic, is expected to win the most seats.

Feeble recovery

Voters’ dismay reflects the coalition’s poor economic record.

Despite a feeble recovery in exports, the Dutch economy last year was still 3.5 percent smaller than before the crisis.

Household consumption has been depressed by public-sector wage freezes and higher taxes that have also sapped business confidence.

Tax hikes

The sales tax has been raised from 19 to 21 percent while excise duties on alcohol, fuel, soft drinks and tobacco have gone up further.

The insurance tax rate has tripled. A surtax on incomes over €150,000 was levied in both 2012 and 2013. Income tax brackets have not been adjusted for inflation, which has amounted to a de facto tax increase across the board.

Yet public sector spending has continued to rise in real terms, despite cuts in defense and health care.

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