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A POLITICAL earthquake took place in the Netherlands last week when the Dutch Socialist Party (SP) made the biggest gains in the 22 November general elections, coming third place with 25seats. With 1,624,349 votes, the SP won 16.6%. The turnout was high, at 80.1%. This is a big jump from the 2003 elections, when the SP got 608,490 votes. Elizabeth Bakker (Offensief - CWI, Netherlands) from Amsterdam and Niall Mulholland, CWI, explain this phenomenal increase and the tasks now facing the SP.
THE LOSS of support for the main governing and opposition parties shows the electorate rejected years of savage social cuts and neo-liberal policies. The polls, particularly the big jump in SP support, also revealed sharp political polarisation in society, which shook the ruling establishment and mainstream media.
Dutch supporters of the CWI, Offensief, who are part of the SP, welcomed the electoral breakthrough for the SP, and call for the party to build on the success by developing fighting, socialist policies.
The ruling Christian Democrats (CDA) won the largest share of the votes in the election but face a difficult task forming a new coalition government. Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende's party won 41 seats in the 150-strong parliament.
The current coalition partners, the Liberals (VVD) won 22 seats, meaning the CDA need to include other parties to reach a working majority. The Labour Party (PvdA) lost many votes, including a chunk that went to the SP. Its share fell from 42 to 33 seats. The Green Left party got seven, down by one.
The election saw a polarisation amongst the electorate, on broad left and right lines, indicating a search by many voters for an alternative to years of right-wing, cuts-making coalition governments.
The two parties of the outgoing right-wing coalition, the CDA and the VVD, lost between them nine seats and a majority to continue in power. As an indication of the radicalisation of a big section of the population, the 'Party for Animals' became the first animal rights party to win seats in a parliament in Europe.
Although the vote for the SP is a very positive indication of the shift to the left by many in society, the hard right also made gains. The anti-immigrant, anti-Islamic 'Party for Freedom' (PVV), led by Geert Wilders, took nine seats (nearly 600,000 votes) standing for the first time.
The election was called after the CDA-led governing coalition collapsed in June, after a row over its handling of the disputed citizenship of a Somali-born, right populist Dutch politician. The main parties whipped up anti-immigrant moods over the last few years, while they carried out the biggest social cuts since 1945. On the eve of the election, in a cynical last ditch effort to get more votes for the government parties, the cabinet backed a proposal to ban the burqa (estimated to be worn by just 30 women in the Netherlands).
For most working people, however, the main election issues concerning them were social and class issues, as expressed by the sharp rise in votes for the SP. In recent years, huge demonstrations and limited strike action took place against government's cuts.
Many workers were disappointed this movement was not developed further by the union leaders - stepping up mass militant action to defeat the CDA/VVD administration - but used the elections to show their opposition to neo-liberal policies. Polls showed that amongst trade unionists, 35% said they would vote SP, as did a high number of workers in the health service. In a poll of older school students (many who will be able to vote in the next elections) the SP came second to the PvdA (Labour).
Many workers and youth in the Netherlands are clearly shifting to the left. However, SP leader Jan Marijnissen does not rule out a 'grand coalition' of his party with PvdA and CDA, although the SP is "fiercely opposed to the direction which the Christian Democrats have taken in recent years."
Offensief supporters argue that entering a coalition with any of the main parties would be disastrous for the SP. All the main parties are pro-market, pro-cuts parties.
The SP in coalition with any of these parties would be expected to act as a 'left cover' for attacks on the living standards of workers and for attacks on immigrants. It would follow the same path as the Labour Party, which previously was regarded as a party for working people until years of pro-bosses' policies in government saw it lose that traditional support.
Not only would the main bosses' parties be let off the hook, but the smaller hard right parties and racists could make further gains, tapping into general disillusionment with all the main parties, including the SP.
At the moment however, it looks as if a coalition of Christian Democrats, Labour Party and Christian Union (a smaller Christian Party that also gained seats) is more likely, as it is more manageable for the Christian Democrats in comparison to a coalition of Christian Democrats, Labour Party and Socialist Party.
The SP is a broad party, whose leaders, while stating they want reforms for working people, do not seriously challenge the rule of capitalism.
Of course, Offensief supporters fight for every possible reform for the working class, but also point out that only a relentless mass struggle to change society - for a democratic socialist society where people's needs replace profits - can secure past gains won by the working class and win new rights and better living standards for workers and the poor.
This week's poll breakthrough for the SP shows the huge potential for a party which campaigns on bold, socialist policies, and maintains an independent class approach - rejecting power-sharing with right-wing, cuts-making parties.
Offensief (CWI) supporters call for the SP to open up to an active working-class and youth membership; for democratic, inclusive party structures so that genuine discussion and debate can take place and the party can be a campaigning organisation, from local to national level.
On this basis the SP can be the core of a new mass socialist alternative that can seriously contest for power over the next elections, preparing the way for a majority socialist government with bold socialist policies.
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Article dated 29 November 2006
The Socialist, weekly newspaper of the Socialist Party
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