Path: ICPP > ICPP 1980 > List of Countries --> The Netherlands
Kenneth Janda
Political Parties: A Cross-National Survey
New York: The Free Press, 1980: pp. 460-462
The NETHERLANDS: The Party System in 1950-1956 and 1957-1962
(Text as published in 1980 citation above)

Dutch politics during our period of study was characterized by a lack of crisis. Between 1950 and 1962 there was no political violence to speak of, no new political movements achieved importance, and no sense of "grand alternatives" or different social and political systems confronted the average citizen. Nevertheless, this period has been described as very important for the development of the Dutch party system.' For example, the 1954 Bishops' declaration on the need for political and social unity among Roman Catholics resulted in a dissolution of one minor party (Catholic National Party); a crisis in the important Dutch Labor Party, especially the formally organized Catholic group; the rethinking of fundamentals of the major Catholic People's Party, which would lead to a split within the party in the 1960s; and a new relationship between the trade unions and the parties. Also in this period the discussion started on cooperation among the three major religious parties, and a Marxist group was founded within the Labor Party that can be considered the forerunner of the New Left in that party. While the visible surface of Dutch politics seemed relatively placid during our period, there were strong undercurrents of movement, controversy, and change.

Longstanding interest of religious and economic groups have promoted the development of a multiparty system in the Netherlands. The multiparty system has been institutionalized by the use of proportional representation, which, since no party comes near to winning a majority of seats in parliament, ensures that all governments must be coalition governments. Each of the major Dutch parties represented tendencies in Dutch history that go back at least fifty years and sometimes a century, although some were organized on their present basis in the 1940s. Religious forces in the Netherlands traditionally accounted for three of the six major parties. Catholics were represented in the Catholic People's Party, the largest party in parliament during our time period. The Protestants were divided between the Christian Historical Union and the more militantly Calvin Anti-Revolutionary Party. Economic forces, in pa gave rise to the other three parties: the Labor Party, most as large as the Catholic People's Party; the Liberal Party; and the Communist Party, the smallest of the six in parliamentary representation.

Throughout the first part of our time period, the government was headed by Willem Drees, whose Labor Party governed in coalition with the Catholic People's Party, the Christian Historical Union, and--beginning in 1952--the Anti-Revolutionary Party as well. Preceding the Anti-Revolutionary Party in the governing coalition, moreover, was the Liberal Party. Thus, all the major parties except the Communists shared in the government of the Netherlands, and most of them did continually.

In 1958, however, the partnership of the two major parties dissolved over economic differences, and the Catholics formed a government without Labor support. Catholic Louis Beel then briefly headed a caretaker government that included only the two Protestant parties in coalition with the Catholic People's Party. Following the 1959 elections, these same parties entered into a coalition with the Liberals-placing the Labor Party in opposition for the first time since World War II-and formed a government that continued throughout our time period, with the Catholic Jan Eduard de Quay replacing Bed as government leader.

Continuity and Change since 1962

From 1950 to 1962, the Netherlands featured six political parties that qualified for our study. Although no other country in the study had more than five parties holding 5 percent of the seats at any one time, the Dutch system was rather stable, as shown by the even plots of party seats over time for that early period. But afterward, new parties began to proliferate and established parties struggled to survive in the fragmented parliament. Only three of our original six parties remained viable through 1978, and two new parties qualified for study.

Original Parties, Terminated

261 Catholic People's Party. The strongest party in parliament for most of the period and usually head of the governmental coalition, the KVP began to lose seats steadily beginning with the 1967 election. Although it was still able to form its usual right-center governmental coalition under Petrus J. S. de Jong as prime minister, the KVP surrendered that office when it participated in another right-center coalition in 1971-1972 and in a left-center coalition in 1973-1977. Its influence waning, the party merged with two Protestant parties in December 1976 to form the Christian Democratic Appeal.

264 Anti-Revolutionary Party. This Calvinist Party derived its name from its opposition to aspects of the French Revolution. Never so strong as the KVP, the CARP also lost seats rather steadily since the early 1950s. It also ended its separate existence in 1976 upon the creation of the Christian Democratic Appeal.

265 Christian Historical Union. Smaller than either the KVP or the ARP, the Protestant CHU (also Calvinist but more inclined to a church-state) experienced the same erosion of strength over time. It too merged into the Christian Democratic Appeal in 1976.

Original Parties, Continuing

262 Labor Party. Known by its initials in Dutch, the PvdA suffered short-term losses in seats right after 1962, but it began to increase in strength with the 1971 elections. Clearly the largest party after the 1972 elections, the PvdA nevertheless had trouble forming a government, which took a record six months before it succeeded with support from two religious parties, the KVP and ARP, and from the Democrats 1966 and the PPR (Radicals). This left-center government of Johannes den Uyl collapsed in 1977 following a dispute with his Christian partners. Although the ensuing election returned the PvdA with its largest plurality, den Uyl was unable to form a government after several months of trying.

263 Liberal Party. The Liberals (People's Party for Freedom and Democracy, VVD) tended to increase their vote until becoming the third largest party. "Liberal" in the free-enterprise sense, the VVD was part of the right-center coalitions from 1967 to 1972. It formed a similar coalition in late 1977 with the new Christian Democratic Appeal, ending a deadlock of seven months over the formation of a new government.

266 Communist Party. Traditionally one of the smallest parties in parliament, the Communist Party fell to only 1 percent of the seats following the 1977 election. Nevertheless, it survived.

New Parties, Continuing

267 Democrats 1966. A left-of-center party formed in 1966, D'66 hovered around 5 percent of the seats throughout, but the party did participate in the PvdA coalition government formed in 1973.

268 Christian Democratic Appeal. The CDA was formed in December 1976 by the three venerable religious parties (Catholic KVP, conservative Calvinist ARP, and state-Calvinist CHU), which were losing votes and influence in Dutch politics. The merger of Catholics and Protestants, traditionally separate pillars of Dutch society, in a common party list was a major development of enormous potential for Dutch politics. The former Christian parties have not dismantled their separate structures outside parliament, but they campaign together and are organized together within parliament. Combined in the CDA, they appear to have arrested their common parliamentary slide, as the CDA won 33 percent of the seats compared with 32 percent collected by the three parties separately in the 1972 elections. Nearly as large as the PvdA after the 1977 elections, the CDA was involved for months in negotiations for forming a new government under Johannes den Uyl, the previous PvdA prime minister, Negotiations foundered first over government acquisition of land and then over the issue of abortion. Nearly seven months after the election, the CDA was itself able to head a government in December 1977, ending the longest cabinet deadlock in Dutch politics. In coalition with the rightist VVD, Andreas van Agt became prime minister of a government commanding a paper-thin majority of 51 percent of the Second Chamber.


From the early 1950s to the late 1970s, the Dutch party system degenerated from a set of six parties that captured more than 95 percent of all of the parliamentary seats to seven parties in 1972 that won barely 85 percent. In all, fourteen different parties won representation the lower house in 1972. Even with the merger of three of these parties into the CDA, eleven parties won least one seat in the 1977 election--and a total of twelve other parties contested the election (Keesing's Contemporary Archives, September 23, 1978, p. 28575)! The formation of the CDA may eventually stabilize the Dutch system by producing larger party blocs and thud discouraging recent centrifugal tendencies. By 1977, the three largest parties accounted for 87 percent of the seats, whereas in 1972 the three largest held only 61 per cent. Perhaps the main question lies in the stability o1 the CDA itself and whether it will be able to hang together to provide the centripetal force for stabilizing the system.

[For party politics in the Netherlands since 1962, go to the essay by Michael J. Faber]

1. Our study of party politics in the Netherlands is based on a file of 1,876 pages from 11 I documents, nearly all of which are in English (see Table 1.3). The bibliographic search and indexing of material for the file was done by Howard Matthews. Steve Block used the file to code the Catholic People's Party on the variables in the ICPP conceptual framework. Paul J. Rossa coded all five of the other parties. This chapter was critically reviewed by Isaac Lipschits and Arend Lijphart, who provided valuable advice on our coding, not all of which could be incorporated into this volume.
2. Personal communication from 1. Lipschits, who also furnished the examples cited to make this point.