By: Sophia Alloui
(Pieter Omtzigt, Head of New Social Contract, in Parliament) Source: Lex van Lieshout ANP
This autumn, on the 22nd of November, the Netherlands will hold an unexpected snap election, only a mere two and half years after the last general election. This election comes after the abrupt collapse of the fourth Mark Rutte led cabinet on the 7th of July, 2023, on account of sharp divisions over immigration policy. As we approach the election date, the latest polls show a tight race between the current largest party in parliament, People’s Party For Freedom and Democracy (VVD), and the newcomer party, New Social Contract. Will VVD remain the largest party in parliament for the fifth election in a row, or will a new coalition take the reins?
Prime Minister Mark Rutte, at the helm of the VVD from 2006 until 2023, assumed the role of Prime Minister in 2010. During the most recent general election in March 2021, VVD, a center-right party with a focus on conservative liberalism, secured 21.87% of the vote. As this is far from a majority, the social-liberal Democrats 66, the Christian democratic Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA), and the Christian Union formed a coalition cabinet. However, tension within the coalition was apparent from the outset, as its formation took 299 days, the longest in Dutch history.
Immigration and asylum policy has been an incredibly significant and contentious issue in the Netherlands, and even within the cabinet there was much disagreement about what policy to implement. In February 2023, the CDA put forward a proposal that aimed to differentiate war refugees from refugees fleeing persecution. The proposal also reduced the maximum period of residence from seven years to three. Although this proposal was supported by the conservative VVD, it faced staunch opposition from the socially-liberal Democrats 66 and pro-family Christian Union.
In spite of the fact that the cabinet was close to a deal after months of discussion, Prime Minister Rutte unexpectedly introduced non-negotiable demands on the 5th of July, such as permitting only 200 relatives a month to be reunited with refugees and imposing a two-year waiting period for families seeking reunification. Unable to bridge their differences, the coalition decided to dissolve the government only two days later.
Rise of New Social Contract
In early 2021, Pieter Omtzigt, at the time a prominent member of the Christian Democratic Appeal, authored the manifesto A New Social Contract, presenting his vision for the CDA. However, following a falling out with the party, Omtzigt parted ways with the CDA in June of that year and continued as a one-man faction in September. In the wake of the government collapse, Omtzigt established the New Social Contract on the 19th of August with his manifesto outlining the core principles and policy of the party.
New Social Contract is a centrist, Christian democratic party characterized by its communitarian philosophy. Its key policy concerns include promoting good governance through the establishment of a constitutional court, advocating for a regional electoral system, and bolstering social security by changing the living wage to improve the living standards of those with low incomes.
According to I&O research, New Social Contract seems to be gaining traction across the political spectrum, attracting voters from the far-right nationalist Party for Freedom as well as the Socialist Party. Notably, 40% of its electorate comes from the Farmer-Citizen Movement, a right-wing populist party that has also been described as having Christian-democratic leanings.
Who Is Coming Out on Top?
In the run-up to the November 22nd election, numerous organizations are conducting polls to find out voter intentions. The most recent polls, conducted by I&O Research between the 6th and 7th of November, estimate New Social Contract winning 29 seats, representing approximately 19% of parliament. This would place them in the lead, with VVD trailing closely in second place, projected to win 26 seats. Notably, this forecast indicates an 8-seat reduction for the VVD compared to their current standing.
In a surprising turn of events, Democrats 66, currently the second largest party in parliament with 24 seats, is estimated to suffer a substantial loss, only securing 8 seats or about 5% of the total. This is by far the most enormous decline among any party.
GroenLinks-PvdA, currently the third largest party with 17 seats, is poised to make substantial gains, with an estimated win of 7 additional seats, placing them right behind VVD. The fourth largest party, Party for Freedom (PVV), is expected to make more modest gains with an estimated 1 additional seat. However, Christian Democratic Appeal, the only other Christian democratic party in parliament, faces a notably bleak outcome. It is projected to lose two-thirds of its seats, reducing their representation to only 4 seats.
What Might The New Dutch Government Look Like?
It seems increasingly probable that, for the first time since 2010, VVD will no longer be the largest party in the House of Representatives. There is a growing likelihood that we will see a coalition government, with New Social Contract as the post-election kingmaker.
In August, Pieter Omtzigt declared that he would implement a cordon sanitaire, or a refusal to form a coalition, on the right-wing PVV, claiming the party does not respect the rule of law. Thus, the Netherlands seems to be heading down a different path from other European nations where far-right parties have ascended to power.
On November 6th, Omtzigt stated that “a center-right minority cabinet is certainly a possibility.” He has previously advocated for a minority coalition to remedy the current fragmentation in Dutch politics. Omtzigt named as possible coalition partners VVD, BBB, CDA, along with the conservative Juiste Antwoord 2021 (JA21), and the right-wing Reformed Political Party (SGP), each expected to win 2 seats.
Nevertheless, he added that he is keeping his options open. Omtzigt stressed “good governance; financial security for families, limits to migration, and house building” as the key policies for any coalition.
Despite this, it remains unclear whether Omtzigt will replace Rutte and take up the mantle of Prime Minister himself.