Can the government still govern after upcoming Senate elections?

Edition 8 March 2019, by Seringe S.T. Touray

Every four years, the Provincial Councils of the twelve Dutch provinces elect for the members of the Senate. The Senate’s election usually occurs within three months following the election of the Provincial Council (Provinciale Staten), in which Provincial Councils are elected by the Dutch voting public. Thus, the voters have an indirect, yet powerful influence on the Senate elections, as the voter-elected members of the Provincial Councils in turn elect the Senate.

The Dutch political climate shows the intense ideological clash between parties contesting the upcoming provincial elections in March and the 27 May Senate elections, both of which might change the future of national politics. Understandably, one of the main issues in both elections is the national job market, and especially the way in which different parties interpret the problems in this area. 2017’s Global Risk Report of the World Economic Forum determined that global income inequality will be among the greatest problems in the next ten years, and may cause rising unemployment. With the effects of unemployment already taking a toll on some Dutch citizens, Paul de Grauwe, an economist at the London School of Economics (LSE), noticed that this growing inequality has been ignored by politicians in recent decades.

Income inequality, which lies at the root of unemployment and social instability, creates a dividing line in the politics of the coming elections. On one hand there are internationalists, who favour and champion immigration, multicultural involvement, the EU, and overall international cooperation. On the other hand, nationalists voice anti-immigration views while emphasizing national sovereignty. For the March provincial elections, right-wing, populist Party for Freedom (PVV) is expected to be one of the biggest parties, according to the polls.

In early February, Peilingwijzer published the first poll result of 2019 for the House of Representatives elections which will occur in 2021. It combined polling from different sources – Peil.nl, Ipsos/EenVandaag and I & O Research – all indicating that support for each of the many Dutch parties has generally not changed significantly. However, parties like the Forum for Democracy (FvD), a new party founded by Thierry Baudet in 2016, are rising steadily. Although these polls do not give clear predictions for the March Senate elections, they are indicative of the power dynamics in the Senate as well as provincial elections.

According to the latest polls, at least twelve political parties would gain seats in the Senate. From highest to lowest: the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) at the top with 13 seats, the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) 12 seats, the Democrats ‘66 (D66) 10 seats, the Party for Freedom (PVV) and the Socialist Party (SP) 9 seats each, the Labour Party (PvdA) 8 seats, GroenLinks (GL) 4 seats, the Christian Union (CU) 3 seats, and the Party for the Animals (PvdD), the Reformed Political Party (SGP), and the 50 Plus Party all holding 2 seats each.

The Dutch Senate consists of 75 members, who serve a term of four years, after which another election by members of the Provincial Councils takes place. Interestingly, the upcoming Senate election will be the first in which members of the electoral college representing the Caribbean Netherlands will be able to vote.

As is the norm, the votes cast to elect Senate members do not all carry the same weight. The value assigned to each vote is dependent on the provincial population of the source vote, meaning that greater value is given to a provincial councillor’s vote if they originate from a more densely populated province. Subsequent to the 27 May election, the results will be officially published by the Electoral Council in the Senate building, and the statistical outcome stored in the Electoral Council’s election results database. Generally, this final result is announced as quickly as two days after the elections.

Ultimately, the Central Electoral Committee manages the entirety of the Senate election process. The Electoral Council acts as this Central Committee, having been granted the right to determine the final election results. It also carries out additional duties, including processing the registration of new political parties, assessing the validity of candidate lists, and officially appointing the members of the Senate.