Dutch Ruling Parties Lose Majority in Senate

Early provincial election results show the Dutch ruling parties losing their majority in the Senate.

Dutch senators debate legislation in The Hague
Dutch senators debate legislation in The Hague (ANP)
  • 67 out of 219 provincial deputies from the Netherlands’ ruling Labor and liberal parties have failed to win reelection.
  • As a result, the two are expected to lose their majority in the Senate when provincial deputies elect a new upper chamber in May.
  • The liberal Democrats have gone up from 42 to 67 provincial seats. They also became the largest party in the capital, Amsterdam.
  • The nationalist Freedom Party did well in country’s second city, Rotterdam, as well as the southern province of Limburg. It came in fifth overall, behind the far-left Socialists but ahead of Labor.
Nick Ottens Nick Ottens March 18, 20159:45 PM

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.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens March 19, 20151:55 AM

With votes counted in 64 out of 393 municipalities, the christian democrats were in the lead with fourteen Senate seats.

Exit polls had given the christian democrats twelve seats, the same as Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s liberals.

However, early results put the liberals in third place with the liberal Democrats becoming the second-largest party with thirteen seats.

With the exception of Rotterdam, none of the major cities had reported its results yet as of midnight local time. The christian democrats also tend to do better in small, rural areas while the liberals do well in the western provinces of Holland where they were ahead in nearly all the municipalities that had declared their results.

For now, it’s probably safer to go by the exit polls but whichever calculation is right — the government would still not have a majority in the upper chamber.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens March 19, 20152:00 AM

The liberals and centrist liberal Democrats are vying for first place in The Hague, the administrative capital. Both parties got 18 percent support. The nationalist Freedom Party is the third-largest with 15 percent support, followed by Labor which went from 22 to 12 percent.

The Hague doubles as provincial capital of South Holland where the liberals are altogether ahead with 17 percent support. They did especially well in the province’s wealthy suburbs while the Freedom Party won most votes in the port city of Rotterdam and its surrounding municipalities.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens March 19, 20152:14 AM

The liberal Democrats have become the largest party by far in Amsterdam, winning 20 percent of the votes in the Dutch capital.

The Labor Party, once dominant in Amsterdam, was kicked out of the city government last year for the first time since the end of the Second World War. The liberal Democrats currently rule in coalition with the liberals and the far-left Socialists.

Labor got 15 percent support in Amsterdam, the liberals and Socialists 13 percent each. The Greens are larger in the capital than in most other municipalities. They lost a few thousand votes but still got 12 percent support.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens March 19, 20152:15 AM

The province of Flevoland is the first to get all its results in. The liberals have gone from 23 to 17 percent support but are still the largest party. The nationalist Freedom Party comes in second with 14 percent support. Labor has gone from 16 to 9 percent.

Voting continues in the remaining eleven provinces. The liberals are ahead in five, the christian democrats in four. The liberal Democrats are ahead in the province of North Holland but that is probably because they did so well in Amsterdam. Once smaller cities and towns declare their results, the liberals are more likely to be the largest party there as well.

The far-left Socialists are ahead in northeastern Groningen, traditionally a Labor bulwark. The provincial capital, also called Groningen, has yet to declare its results, so Labor could still pull ahead. So far, it has dropped from 25 to 12 percent support. Voters in the gas-rich province are disappointed Labor hasn’t managed to negotiate a bigger reduction in natural gas production which is held responsible for earthquakes there.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens March 19, 20152:15 AM

The liberal Democrats took a quarter of the votes in the city of Utrecht, the Netherlands’ fourth-largest. The Greens came in second with 14.5 percent support. Both parties benefited from the collapse of Labor which went from almost 20 percent support to 12 percent.

In the province as a whole, the liberal Democrats are also ahead with 17.5 percent support, up from 11 percent four years ago.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens March 19, 20152:16 AM

The christian democrats have overtaken the liberals as the largest party in southwestern Zeeland, winning more than 14 percent support there. The orthodox Calvinist Staatkundig Gereformeerde Partij (SGP) came in with 13 percent support in what is one of the most heavily religious parts of the country.

The SGP is one of the two small Christian parties that supports Rutte’s government in the Senate.

Despite going from 16 to 9.5 percent support in the province as a whole, Labor was still the largest party in the capital Middelburg.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens March 19, 20152:16 AM

The Socialists have beat Labor into second place in Groningen, a major victory for a party that still struggles to convince left-wing voters it is a credible alternative to Labor and able to govern.

Labor has governed in coalition with the Democrats, Greens, liberals and a small Christian party in Groningen for the last four years. With the Socialists winning 16 percent support and Labor going from 24 to 12 percent, it will be difficult to keep the far left out of power in the north.

Immediately to the south of Groningen, in Drenthe, Labor and the liberals went from a combined 44 percent to 30 percent support. They are the still the two largest parties there but will have to invite a third party to join the provincial government. The christian democrats, who came in third with 14 percent support, are likely partners.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens March 19, 20152:17 AM

After losing the election in Groningen, Labor lost the northern province of Friesland as well, going from 24 to 15 percent support there. The christian democrats are now the largest party in the province with 21 percent. The local Frisian party won 10 percent of the votes and can be expected to join the next provincial coalition, probably with two or even all three major parties.

The christian democrats stayed the largest party in northeastern Overijssel with almost a quarter of the votes. The liberals came in second. The Democrats, probably today’s biggest winners nationwide, did not do very well in this countryside area: they went from 7 to 10 percent support.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens March 19, 20152:18 AM

By far most municipalities have now declared their results and the liberals are ahead in all but two of the remaining provinces.

In North Holland, they would go from 22 to 18 percent support. The liberal Democrats are the second-largest party with 15.5 percent in the province as a whole. But they only managed to take first place in the cities of Amsterdam and Haarlem. The medium-sized cities of Den Helder, Purmerend and Zaanstad voted for the Freedom Party. Three municipalities haven’t declared. All the others went for the liberals.

In South Holland, the liberals are ahead with 17 percent support. The Freedom Party looks to be the second-largest party in the provincial legislature, largely thanks to its strong performance in and around Rotterdam. But there is a good chance the other major parties will team up to keep it out of power.

The liberal Democrats are neck and neck with their right-wing counterparts in Utrecht. They took first place in the provincial capital as well as the city of Amersfoort. The two liberal parties currently rule in coalition with the christian democrats and Green in Utrecht. It seems likely they will be able to continue that alliance.

The liberals lost only 4 percent support in Gelderland, the Netherlands’ richest province. The christian democrats would finish a close second with 15 percent support while smaller Christian parties won more than 10 percent of the votes combined in this part of the Dutch “Bible Belt.” A grand coalition of Labor, the christian democrats, liberals and liberal Democrats rules Gelderland. They should be able to stay in power. Only the city of Harderwijk hadn’t managed to count all its votes yet.

The christian-democrats and liberals are vying for first place in North Brabant. The far-left Socialists are traditionally strong in this province’s industrial areas. They won 17 percent support in both the cities of Eindhoven and Tilburg but gained only 2 percent support in the province as a whole. Labor’s support is almost cut in half but it seems most Labor voters in North Brabant switched to the Democrats instead who went from 8 to 12 percent.

In southern Limburg — Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders’ home province — the christian democrats are once again the largest party. The nationalists beat them into second place four years ago. The christian democrats and liberals managed to govern with the Freedom Party for a single year. When the coalition collapsed in 2012, Labor joined them instead. Both Labor and the liberals lose heavily in Limburg, though. They might not be able to continue the three-party coalition although, if they insist on keeping the nationalists out, the pro-European Democrats could probably join the provincial government.