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THE NETHERLANDS: The Party System from 1963 to 2000, By Michael J. Faber*

The Catholic People's Party (KVP), in power at the end of our initial time period, retained the position of Prime Minister until the 1971 elections. Throughout this time, the governing coalition also included the Liberal Party (VVD), Anti-Revolutionary Party (ARP), and Christian Historical Union (CHU). In the 1967 elections, although the ruling coalition did not change, several important things happened that are important to note. First of all, the Farmer's Party (BP) gained its greatest support and picked up 7 seats in the Tweede Kamer, the lower house of the Dutch Staten-Generaal, the parliament. Second, and more importantly, the newly founded Democrats '66 (D66) made a very strong showing, also obtaining 7 seats in the first election the party contested.

After the elections in 1971, the government was left without a majority in parliament, holding 74 seats (out of 150) between all four parties. Two new parties won seats in this election. The less powerful of the two, the Radical Political Party (PPR), split off from the KVP and won 2 seats. The Democratic Socialists 1970 (DS70), an offshoot of the Labor Party (PvdA), picked up 8 seats. The previous governing coalition invited the DS70 to join in the new government, headed by the ARP.

In 1972, however, the DS70 ministers resigned from the cabinet over budget issues, and the coalition was left with 74 seats; new elections were held later that year. DS70 was never again in a governing coalition. In the 1972 election, the PPR made huge gains, jumping from 2 seats to 7 in the Tweede Kamer, while the D66 lost 5 seats. Both parties, however, were in the resulting government, with the KVP, the ARP and headed by the PvdA.

In 1977, a major change in Dutch politics took place. The KVP, ARP, and CHU united to form the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA), after a long process of negotiations that began in 1967. In its first election, the CDA took almost a third of the seats, just a few below the Labor Party. That showing was strong enough to put the CDA in the position to head a government, along with the VVD. This coalition took seven months to form, the longest deadlock in Dutch history. It occurred only after negotiations between the CDA and the PvdA failed, first over tax issues, then over the issue of abortion. The government formed by the CDA and VVD had a very small majority in the Tweede Kamer (77 out of 150), made potentially smaller by 8 left wing members of the CDA, who vowed to vote their personal views if they were in conflict with what was agreed upon by the parties. In 1981, the government lost that majority after taking only 74 seats total. The CDA lost only 1 seat, and the VVD only lost 2. The PvdA, however, lost 9 seats, making the CDA the strongest party in the parliament. Meanwhile, the D66 had its most successful election up until that time, setting it up to become part of the new government. The CDA headed up that government, with the PvdA and D66.

Just a year later, the PvdA left the coalition over budgetary issues. The CDA and D66 continued as a minority government until elections could be held, with the solid backing of the VVD. The 1982 elections resulted in large gains for the VVD, and large losses for the D66. The previous coalition of the CDA and the VVD was reunited, this time with a greater majority in parliament (81 votes). In 1986, the VVD lost 9 seats, and the CDA gained 9 seats, maintaining the majority and the coalition. The gains made by the CDA were against all opinion polls prior to the election, and the gains are most likely because of the popularity of the Prime Minister, Ruud Lubbers, who retained that position in the new government. The PvdA and D66 made some gains in the election, while the Communist Party (CPN) won no seats, for the first time since World War II.

In 1989, the VVD withdrew from the government, forcing new elections. The 1989 elections saw major losses for the VVD, which lost another 5 seats. Therefore, the CDA, still the strongest party, sought another partner for its coalition government. It ended up forming a coalition with the PvdA; the new government held more than two-thirds of the votes in parliament. Also in 1989, an important change occurred among the smaller parties. The CPN joined with the Pacifist Social Party (PSP), the PPR, and the Evangelical People's Party (EVP) to form the Green Left (GL), which won 6 seats in its first election.

In 1994, both the PvdA and CDA suffered a dramatic fall, losing 12 and 20 seats, respectively. The VVD and D66 gained 9 and 12 seats, respectively. The General League of the Elderly (AOV) gained 6 seats in its first election. The end result of this shifting support was that the Christian Democrats were not represented in the governing coalition, for the first time since 1917. The government consisted of the PvdA, VVD, and D66. In 1998, the PvdA and VVD each showed considerable gains. While the D66 lost a lot of their support, they were asked to remain in the government for the sake of continuity.

In 1999, the cabinet resigned when the D66 decided to withdraw support for the government. Prime Minister Wim Kok, however, managed to reconcile the three parties and reform the government so no new elections were needed.

Continuity and Change in Political Parties, 1963-2000

Original Parties from 1950-1962, still continuing to 2000

262 Labor Party (PvdA). The PvdA has consistently been one of the strongest of the Dutch parties, although it has only been in the government roughly half the time in the last thirty years. Up until 1994, the PvdA was never able to form a governing coalition without the KVP (through 1973) or the CDA (after 1981). In 1994, however, despite the loss of twelve seats in the Tweede Kamer, the PvdA managed to head a coalition without the Christian Democrats by teaming up with the two biggest winners of that year's election, the VVD and D66. In 1998, the PvdA regained eight of the seats it had lost, and continued its government. In May of 1999, the D66 withdrew support for the government, threatening the coalition, but Prime Minister Wim Kok managed to reconcile the three parties and saved the government from collapse.

263 Liberal Party (VVD). The third strongest party from the 1960s through the 1990s, the VVD was involved in the governing coalition most of the time, although it has never held the position of Prime Minister. From 1977 to 1980 and again from 1983 to 1989, it was in a two-party coalition with the CDA. In 1990, however, it lost five seats and its place in the governing coalition. Four years later, it gained nine seats, and was part of the new government. In 1998, it gained another seven seats, catapulting it ahead the CDA in parliamentary strength. The VVD currently holds 38 seats, its highest total ever, and is the second strongest party in the Dutch Parliament.

New Parties formed after 1962 and continuing to 2000

267 Democrats 1966 (D66). The D66, after strong showings in its first two elections, was part of a governing coalition by 1973, seven years after its founding. In 1977, despite gaining two seats, it lost its spot in the government. In 1981, after a very successful election in which it more than doubled its representation, it was involved in a government with the PvdA and CDA which lasted only two years before it collapsed and was replaced by a CDA-VVD government, after the D66 lost more than it had gained in the previous election. In 1994, the D66 had its most successful election ever, winning 24 seats, and entering a coalition with the PvdA and VVD, a coalition that, despite the loss of ten seats by the D66 in 1998, still exists today. The D66 almost withdrew from the government in May of 1999, but Prime Minister Wim Kok of the PvdA reconciled the parties and preserved the government.

268 Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA). From the time it was created from the merger of the three large religious parties (KVP, ARP, CHU) in 1976 until 1994, the CDA not only was involved in every governing coalition, but it held the position of Prime Minister continuously throughout those eighteen years. Throughout that time, the CDA held about one-third of the seats in the Tweede Kamer, ranging from 45 to 54 of the 150 seats. In 1994, however, the CDA had a disastrous election, losing twenty seats and falling out of the government. The 1994 coalition of the PvdA, VVD, and D66 represented the first time since 1917 that the Christian Democrats, in some form, were not a part of the government. The CDA suffered further losses in 1998, losing another five seats. The party, however, seems to be stable and in no danger of falling apart again into the three groups that formed it. On the other hand, only one similar party, the Green Left, has been formed from merging several smaller parties since the CDA was formed. This suggests that the formation of the CDA has not significantly affected how parties operate, as many predicted it would. Larger coalition parties are simply not appearing.

269 Political Reformed Party (SGP). Although not included in the original study, the SGP existed and held seats throughout the 1950s and 1960s, and continue to do so. In fact, in every single election since 1950, the SGP has won approximately two percent of the vote, never any more or less. With the exception of the years 1994-1997, the SGP has always held two percent of the seats as well. However, it has never been part of a government.

2614 Reformed Political Union (GPV). Although the GPV contested elections in the 1950s, it never won a seat until 1963. From then on, it has always held at least one, although never more than two. It held two seats from 1971 to 1976, and again from 1990 to present day. It has never been in a government.

2615 Reformed Political Federation (RPF). The RPF was formed in the 1970s, and first won seats in 1981, when it won two of them. After falling to one seat in 1986, the RPF had its best election in 1994, winning three seats, which it still holds.

2616 Green Left (GL). Formed in 1989 by the merger of four leftist parties, the GL had immediate success, picking up six seats in its first election. After losing one seat in 1994, the GL took eleven seats in 1998, proving it to be an important factor in Dutch politics. It has yet to become part of a government. The GL was formed by the Communist Party, Pacifist Social Party, Radical Political Party, and Evangelical People's Party, after all four saw their individual vote totals declining. At the time of the merger, the four parties had a combined three seats, compared with six after the GL's first election.

2617 Center Democrats (CD). The CD, formerly the Center Party, a neo-fascist party endorsing isolationism as its primary issue, was formed in 1981. It gained its greatest strength in 1994, winning three seats. It lost all three in 1998.

2618 General League of the Elderly (AOV). In 1994, two pensioners' parties contested the election. The AOV, the stronger of the two, gained six seats. Unie 55+, the other, won only one seat. In 1998, the AOV joined with Unie 55+, but the combined party failed to win any seats.

2619 Socialist Party (SP). The SP first contested elections in 1989, and won two seats in 1994. In 1998, it was very successful, gaining five seats.

Original Parties from 1950-1962 terminating before 2000

261 Catholic People's Party (KVP). 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 (ARP). This Calvinist party derived its name from its opposition to aspects of the French Revolution. Never so strong as the KVP, the ARP 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 (CHU). 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.

266 Communist Party (CPN). After having reasonably strong support in the early 1970s, the CPN saw its votes fall in the late 70s and 80s, until in 1986 it failed to win even one seat for the first time since World War II. In 1989, it merged with the PPR, PSP, and EVP to form the Green Left, which won twice as many seats in its first election as the four parties held total prior to the 1989 election.

New Parties formed after 1962 but terminating before 2000

2610 Pacifist Social Party (PSP). The PSP, after consistently holding between one and four seats from 1959 to 1989, merged with three other leftist parties in 1989 to form the Green Left. At the time of the merger, the PSP was the second strongest of the four parties, holding one seat in the Tweede Kamer (out of the three held by the four parties combined). Its support had slowly been dwindling from its highest point in the 1960s.

2611 Farmer's Party (BP). The BP had a decent amount of support in the 1960s, winning seven seats in 1967. In 1971, it lost much of that support, and never really regained it. In 1981, it lost its last remaining seat, and hasn't won any seats since. It seems to have stopped contesting elections in the mid 1980s, after losing essentially all of its electoral strength.

2612 Democratic Socialists 1970 (DS70). The DS70 did very well in its first election, gaining eight seats in 1971 and becoming a part of the government, along with the ARP, KVP, VVD and CHU. In 1972, however, the DS70 withdrew its support from the government and subsequently lost two seats. Five years later, it suffered an even worse electoral showing, winning only one seat. After losing its final seat in 1981, the DS70 ceased to contest elections in the mid 1980s.

2613 Radical Political Party (PPR). Formed in 1971, the PPR won only two seats in its first election. However, two years later, it held seven seats and was a part of the government. In 1977, its support again dwindled. In 1989, the PPR merged with the CPN, PSP, and EVP to form the Green Left. At the time of the merger, the PPR was the strongest of the four parties, holding two of the three seats total held by the four parties.


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*Participant in Northwestern University's Summer Camp for Political Party Research, June-August, 2000