Dutch politics braces itself for November elections

The Dutch general election scheduled for 22 November is shaping up to be a closely contested battle between three major parties. According to a recent poll conducted by I&O Research, the three primary contenders are the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), Pieter Omtzigt’s newly established party known as New Social Contract (NSC), and the left-wing alliance of the GroenLinks-PvdA. It’s essential to note that the poll is based on a representative survey of nearly 2,300 adults, providing valuable insights into the electorate’s preferences and political dynamics.

According to the poll’s findings, the VVD, led by the current (outgoing) Justice Minister Dilan Yesilgöz, is projected to land 27 seats in the 150-seat parliament (called ‘Tweede Kamer’ in Dutch; the equivalent of the House of Representatives in the US and the House of Commons in the UK). Both NSC and GL-PvdA are expected to win 26 seats each. This means that none of the parties will be able to secure a majority, and whichever party wins the most votes will provide the new Prime Minister and be in charge of forming a government coalition. Anyone following Dutch politics knows that this is no easy feat, although the leading parties have more in common than the leading parties in the last election.

Interestingly, the far-right Party for Freedom (PVV) is trailing in fourth place with 18 seats, while the pro-farmers’ party BBB is at 11 seats, a significant decrease from their performance in the provincial elections held earlier this year. Furthermore, the poll suggests that NSC, buoyed by the popular figure of Pieter Omtzigt, has the potential to gain more votes than the poll projects. Although Omtzigt initially expressed a reluctance to become Prime Minister, his stance appears to have softened in recent weeks. Notably, NSC has not yet published an official political manifesto or party platform.

A total of 29 political parties have submitted lists of candidates to participate in the upcoming general election in November. This represents a decrease of 12 parties compared to the previous election in 2021. The reduced number of participating parties indicates a consolidation of political representation, with the focus shifting towards the major players like VVD, NSC and GL-PvdA. Earlier polling data have also indicated that these three parties are likely to dominate the election, which makes it possible that they could form a coalition government without the need for a fourth party – if they can reach compromise when it comes to policy. This outcome underscores the importance of these three parties in the Dutch political landscape.

Another noteworthy development in the lead-up to the 2023 Dutch elections is the debate surrounding the monarchy. Members of GL-PvdA voted to include the abolition of the monarchy in their joint manifesto for the election. During a party conference in Rotterdam, 52% of party members voted in favour of establishing a parliamentary republic (which would effectively end the monarchy), while 42% were against the motion. This decision is a significant step, as it goes beyond the joint manifesto’s initial commitment to restricting the monarch to ceremonial roles and ensuring they pay taxes. The proponents of this motion argue that the monarchy is an outdated institution, part of an inequitable system, and is costly to maintain. The Dutch royal house has a budget of approximately €55 million for the upcoming year, making it one of the most expensive monarchies in Europe. However, it’s important to note that the likelihood of the monarchy being abolished in the Netherlands is still a long way off, as it would require a two-thirds majority in parliament, a high threshold to meet.

Further shifts in the political landscape ae caused by the recent flare-up of the war in Israel and Gaza. Kauthar Bouchallikht, current MP for GL, has withdrawn as a candidate over her party’s stance on the Israel-Gaza conflict. This decision followed criticism from GL and PvdA members who questioned leader Frans Timmermans for condemning Hamas attacks, without expressing equal concern for Palestinians. While Bouchallikht can’t officially withdraw from the GL-PvdA candidate list, the Electoral Council clarified that, if elected, she can decline the appointment.

The recent Political Barometer conducted between 13 and 16 October suggests that there have been relatively few shifts in voter preferences compared to the previous measurement at the end of September. This stability is surprising given international developments, such as the conflict between Israel and Hamas and the ongoing war in Ukraine. One party showing a slight gain in this poll is NSC, which was polled at 27 seats this month, an increase of 2 seats compared to the previous month. However, it’s worth noting that many people who consider voting NSC are also considering other parties, possibly because NSC has not yet published its election manifesto.

Conversely, D66, led by Rob Jetten, has been experiencing a continuous decline in support. D66’s seat count has dropped from 9 to 7 in this poll, a substantial decrease from its current representation in the House of Representatives. This is a far cry from D66’s performance in the 2021 elections, when they skyrocketed to the third-largest party in the Netherlands.

In summary, the current polls assume: VVD 27 seats, NSC and GL-PvdA each at 20 seats, PVV 18 seats, BBB 12, D66 and the Party for the Animals each at 7 seats, and SP 6 seats, which several smaller parties reaching 5 seats or fewer.

Anyone who has followed polling in any election in any country knows that these numbers can change and polls are in no way definitive in predicting how people will actually vote. Voter preferences can change, especially in the final phase of the campaign, for which the current Ukrainian war and Israeli-Hamas conflict are central issues. Many voters remain undecided, with only a third having a strong preference for one party, indicating that the political landscape remains fluid in the lead-up to the 2023 Dutch elections. November 22 will surely be a historic vote and will determine the direction the country will go. We will keep you updated through 2023 and 2024.

Written by Marla Thomson