Dutch coalition falls short in senate elections

 

THE COALITION government in the Netherlands has failed by a single vote to win an outright majority in elections to the senate, which would have ensured the stability of the Liberal-Christian Democrat alliance.

It seemed likely last night that the coalition, which is supported by Geert Wilders and his right-wing Freedom Party (VVD), will now have to depend on the backing of the fundamentalist Christian SGP to push its legislative programme through the upper house.

In the senate elections 566 councillors from 12 regional authorities voted, giving the coalition 37 seats in the 75-seat house – very close to the 38 they needed to gain control of both houses.

The result means the government will need the support of the SGP – which won just one senate seat – to clear the way for its most controversial legislation, particularly tougher controls aimed at halving immigration from non-western countries, fast-tracking expulsions of immigrants convicted of committing crimes and a bar on radical religious leaders entering the Netherlands.

Back-room negotiations aimed at securing an overall senate majority have been going since regional elections at the start of March.

However, when the Liberals – led by prime minister Mark Rutte – withdrew their support at the weekend for legislation which would have lifted the ban on blasphemy, it became clear they were not optimistic about yesterday’s outcome and were preparing to court the SGP.

The SGP is also expected to urge the coalition to press ahead with plans to bar foreign tourists from Amsterdam’s famous coffee shops, where cannabis is sold and consumed legally and to give new powers and resources to the police.

Last night, SGP senator Gerrit Holdijk said that despite its new bargaining power, the party did not regard the election outcome as a victory because it had lost one of its two seats.

Moreover, he refused to be drawn by journalists on which of the coalition’s policies the SGP would be supporting and which they might attempt to block.

“I am used to looking at the pros and cons of legislation as it arises and I will continue to do that, even now,” Mr Holdijk said.

However, there are already angry rumblings within the Liberal Party about the prospect of making new right-leaning concessions to the SGP which opposes votes for women and regards homosexuality as a sin.

The Liberals’ youth wing, in particular, has demanded that the party’s power brokers come clean about any provisional deals hammered out in secret before yesterday’s election.