The Dutch party system is a multi-party system that has its heirs in the prewar years and some of the major parties originate from that historical period. Since World War II all Dutch Cabinets have been coalition governments formed by two or more political parties in order to accomplish majority in the House of Representatives.
An important characteristic of Dutch social and political life for much of the 20th century has been pillarisation (verzuiling). The term refers to the segregated organization of society in segments (pillars) that correspond to religious and class divisions, and constitute autonomous social environments, within which almost every aspect (cultural, political, professional) of the lives of their members is organized. In the Netherlands, the most important pillars have been the Protestant, the Catholic, the Social-Democratic and, to a lesser extent, the Liberal. Since the 1960s, societal changes, such as growing secularization, have led to a “depillarisation” of Dutch politics. The creation of the Labour Party (PvdA) in the 1960s as a party open to voters from all pillars was an important step in this direction, which was even further reinforced by the merger of the Catholic People’s party (KVP) with the two Protestant parties (CHU and ARP) into the Christian Democratic Appeal (Christen Democratisch Appèl – CDA).
The Dutch electoral system and the low threshold result to numerous parties into the parliament. Ever since its participation for the first time in the 1977 election, CDA has been the main political force in Dutch governments participating in all but three governments. However, the dominance of the Christian Democrats has waned since the 1990s however and the Dutch party system has been characterized ever since by increasing volatility and fragmentation, a tendency that was reinforced by the fast rise and decline of the populist Pim Fortuyn List in the early 2000s. The last general elections in 2012 were held early after the right-wing Party for Freedom (Partij voor de Vrijheid – PVV) refused to support the austerity measures. The outcome was a victory for liberal People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie – VVD), a good result for the Social Democrat Labour Party (Partij van de Arbeid – PvdA) but a severe loss for the CDA.
People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy
Leader: Mark Rutte
People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie – VVD) is the largest liberal party in Netherlands founded in 1948 and has its heirs in the interwar Liberal State Party (Liberale Staatspartij de Vrijheidsbond – LSP) and Freedom Party (Partij van de Vrijheid – PvdV). It is a centre-right party deriving from liberal tradition, supporter of the private enterprise, democracy and citizenship. Since 1982, with the exception of 1989 and 2006, VVD has participated in all government coalitions and has played a major role in Dutch politics. During the last two general elections of 2010 and 2012 the party won the largest part of the electorate.
Leader: Diederik Samsom
Labour Party (Partij van de Arbeid – PvdA) launched in 1949 as a merger between socialists, left liberals and progressive Christians. The party is placed in the center-left of the political spectrum committed to welfare state as a typical social-democratic party. During the ‘70s PvdA turned into other issues as gender, environment and Third World development. Since the ‘80s it has been part of coalition governments. In the election of 2010 due to controversies over the Dutch role in the Afghanistan war, the party withdrew its support in the coalition government, leading to early general elections. PvdA has its strongholds in the big cities, such as Amsterdam and Rotterdam and among the northern provinces.
Party for Freedom
Leader: Geert Wilders
Party for Freedom (Partij voor de Vrijheid – PVV) is a right-wing political party founded in 2006. The party launched in Dutch politics after his leader Geert Wilders left from People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VDD) in 2004. The disagreement was upon Turkey’s possible accession as a member in the European Union. The party stands in the far right of the political spectrum with nationalist, xenophobic and anti-islamic characteristics. Party’s leader opposes European integration and was one of the leaders in the campaign against European Constitution. In the parliamentary elections of 2010 it was the third largest party winning over 15% of the total vote.
Leader: Emile Roemer
Socialist Party (Socialistische Partij – SP) is a left-wing political party. It was founded in 1971 under the name Communist Party of the Netherlands/Marxist-Leninist (KPN/ML) which originates from the Communist Unity Movement of the Netherlands. The name Socialist Party was adopted in 1972 and since the ‘90s the party had moved away from its communist tradition following a more social-democrat path with commitment to social welfare, public services and environmental issues. In general elections of 1994 SP won its first seats in the House of Representatives and in 2006 it won 16,6% of the electorate becoming the third party in the parliament. Although the polls before elections of 2012 had been showing an impressive rise for SP, the party remained only to its 2010’s electoral results, with 9.7%.
Christian Democratic Appeal
Leader: Sybrand van Haersma Buma
Christian Democratic Appeal (Christen-Democratisch Appèl – CDA) was founded in 1980 and it was the result of a merger between the Catholic People’s Party, the Anti Revolutionary Party and the Christian Historical Union. After the World War II CDA was the dominant party in Dutch political landscape and governments were formed through its cooperation with either the right or the left. In the general elections of 2010 the party lost half of its seats in the House of Representatives and during the elections of 2012 the losses continued. It is only the second time in its history that the party does not participate in the coalition government. CDA has supporters among Christians and Protestants and is stronger in the periphery than the big cities.
Leader: Alexander Pechtold
Democrats 66 (Democraten 66 – D66) is a social-liberal party with progressive characteristics. It was founded in 1966 by journalist Hans van Mierio and originates from dissident Democrats and intellectuals. The party supports democratic reform, human rights and equal society. Large fluctuations characterize the electoral history of the party. In general elections of 1967 the party entered the parliament and has participated in government coalitions since 1973. During the last elections D66 has increased its representation in the House of Deputies.
Sources: The Dutch House of Representatives, European Election Database, Political Data Yearbook, Wikipedia.