The ruling Labor and liberal parties in the Netherlands were projected to lose their majority in the Senate on Wednesday. Provincial election results showed the coalition losing as many as ten out of thirty seats in the upper chamber.
Provincial deputies will indirectly elect the members of the Senate in May.
The ruling parties now count on the support of the centrist liberal Democrats and two small Christian parties for a razor-thin majority in the Senate.
Despite gains for the liberal Democrats, the informal five-party coalition would fall two to four seats short of a majority, according to predictions from the national broadcaster NOS based on exit polls and partial voting results.
Labor did especially poorly. It could lose up to half its fourteen Senate seats. Left-wing voters are disappointed the party joined Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s right-wing liberals in a coalition and defected to either the centrist Democrats or the hardline Socialists. The two would win eighteen seats together.
Despite losing three or four seats for his own party, Rutte was neck and neck with the opposition christian democrats for first place.
Although the christian democrats have quietly backed the majority of the government’s program, they have been vocal in their opposition to signature reforms such as the decentralization of child and elderly care and higher taxes. They would probably condition their support for other policies on tax relief — somewhat that would necessitate deeper spending cuts than Labor is likely to tolerate.
Rutte could also reach out to the Greens who have five seats in the Senate and could give the government a majority. They previously backed a budget in 2012 after Rutte’s first coalition, with the nationalist Freedom Party, collapsed. But they might be reluctant to support the government when their halfhearted opposition hasn’t allowed them to win many votes from Labor so far.
Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party is vying with the liberals to become the largest party in national opinion polls. Yet it will likely lose two of its ten Senate seats. Fewer of the Euroskeptic and anti-immigration party’s voters usually turn out in local elections.
Wilders has ruled out supporting the government and wants early elections instead.
General turnout was projected to be just under 50 percent, the second-lowest for provincial elections since compulsory voting was abolished in the 1970s.
38 seats are needed for a majority in the Senate, usually a sleepy constitutional body that can only send legislation back to the lower chamber.
Given their low popularity, neither Labor nor the liberals would seem to have an interest in calling early parliamentary elections. But without a majority in the upper house, they would also be hard pressed to enact major health and tax reforms during the remaining two years of their term.