Netherlands: New coalition government faces instability and infighting

Months after the Dutch general elections, which saw dramatic gains for the populist right wing Lijst Pim Fortuyn (LPF), a new coalition government has finally been formed. The administration’s proposed policies are clearly to the right and in reality are a continuation of the previous ‘Purple’ (Conservative-Labour) coalition’s neo-liberal programme.

The economic prospects for the country are bad, which will sorely test co-operation between the coalition partners. The economy is in recession. Moreover, turbulence on the world financial system means that because of share investments by pension funds higher premiums are on the way for employees. The economic setbacks will cause the government to cut its budget even more than the proposed 7 billion Euros: they are discussing another 3.5 billion.

The volatile and somewhat eccentric LPF, which only yesterday was seen by many as a ’solution’ to all society’s ills, will contribute to the coalition’s instability. This raises a number of questions. What kind of opposition will develop in society, and from the Left? Are we facing an autumn of discontent? What will be the repercussions of the trial of the suspected assassin of Pim Fortuyn?

Offensief (Dutch section of the CWI) commented earlier this year that the elections took place under very unusual circumstances. The poll result was mainly a vote against the Purple Coalition. It was an indication of discontent with years of neo-liberal policies rather than enthusiasm for the opposition parties Not so long ago, many people lamented the loss of the political ‘Messiah’ Pim Fortuyn but the enthusiasm for the man and his ideas are fading, if we take the lack of interest in his reburial as a measure.

The policies of the Balkenende cabinet (Balkenende is the Christian Democrat MP who leads the government) are characterised by a lack of investment in health care and education. Neither is the government prepared to put adequate resources into creating ‘safety’ on the streets – a big issue for many working class communities. Many people will become disillusioned with the new government, given that these were the main themes of the election campaign.

The chronically ill and the disabled will have difficulties qualifying for benefits. They already face great hurdles finding jobs and most live in poverty. Jobs in education and health care will be cut. Students are told they must pay more tuition costs. Comprehensive insurance in health care is being withdrawn. The general premium for health care, which will be the same for everybody, will benefit the rich. Thousands of jobs in the public sector will be axed.

Another intense aspect of the election campaign was the position of minorities in society. There will be more restrictions imposed on their rights. It will be more difficult to marry someone from outside the Netherlands and there will be fewer positive initiatives, such as integrated education and housing. Restrictions on asylum seekers will be increased.

Pim Fortuyn’s legacy

There are many destabilising factors that can seriously undermine the new governmental coalition. The economic problems are one such factor, but also very important are the personal and political problems within LPF. The LPF parliamentary fraction presidency is now vacant after Mat Herben stepped down as a result of persistent criticism from the membership. He was reproached with having given away too much during the coalition negotiations and it was said that his conduct in parliament was insufficiently "aggressive".

It seems the LPF is incapable of establishing a cohesive party structure. There were serious problems organising a congress and electing an executive.

After the government was formed it turned out that a LPF deputy minister had taken liberties with her political past. It was alleged in the media that she had associations with political forces linked to right wing paramilitary death squads in Surinam.

In the search for candidates for ministerial posts the LPF has attracted quite a few ex VVD, CDA and Labour Party members. Minister for Health, Bomhoff (ex-Labour Party), tried to fire a top civil servant and managed to embarrass the newly installed government. The LPF Vice chairman, Hoogendijk, criticised the judge who is handling the murder of Fortuyn for alleged political prejudice. No doubt, the LPF leaders will try to use the trial as a decoy for its own failure and also to attack the Left (Pim Fortuyn’s alleged assassin was an environmental activist).

There are no indications of an end to these blunders, which are damaging the public standing of the LPF. The very things Pim Fortuyn’s alliance criticised the discredited political establishment for, such as their cutbacks and internal party machinations, are now issues associated with the LPF. This has resulted in the LPF halving its support in the polls. The conservative VVD has begun to eat into LPF support, increasing the coalition’s instability.

’Turn the Tide’

A key question of course is: will there be massive resistance to this new government? There is every reason for predicting that there will be a movement by working people and youth. Already there are early signs of resistance. Under the title, ‘Turn the tide’, a large number of organisations that were active earlier in the anti-globalisation movement, have united to organise activities and to lead the opposition to the government’s policies. On the basis of a very weak and general political statement the Turn the Tide movement is trying to unite many organisations, including the Dutch Labour Party.

Offensief members believe it is wrong to bring the Labour Party on board, given that they were responsible for neo-liberal measures in the previous government. Nevertheless, Offensief has decided to support the Turn the Tide, because it may provide a platform for wider movements of the working class and the dynamics of protest may be such that it will be very difficult for the Labour Party to control them. To succeed, it is essential is that the trade union leadership decides to participate in the protests against government plans. 

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