Amid all the uncertainties of the Dutch general election one outcome seems inevitable – a coalition government. The polls indicate a number of possibilities between the various major and minor parties. As things stand Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkanende and his Christian Democrats are likely to hold the whip hand in any horse trading.
He has had mixed fortunes in the run-up to this election, however. A programme of unpopular austerity measures caused his poll ratings to plummet at one stage. But his party has since rallied under a recovering economy. The main challenge comes from Labour, which capitalised on the government’s unpopularity of previous months. The party, led by Wowter Bos, may be ideologically opposed to much of what the Christian Democrats stand for but that has not prevented speculation about a possible ‘grand coalition’ between the two rivals.
A lot will depend on the performance of the smaller parties, like current junior coalition partners, the liberal VVD, or the Socialists, under the leadership of Yan Marenson. Polls during the campaign have predicted a third place finish for the leftists. Worryingly for Balkenende, that appears to be at the expense of the liberals. The economy and reform have been the main sources of debate during the campaign. Analysts say politicians have tried to avoid the politically sensitive subjects of immigration, integration and Europe where mistakes could cost votes.
Since the murder of film maker Theo Van Gogh by a Muslim extremist in 2003 attitudes have hardened across all main political parties. After years of intense public debate on immigration, commentators say there is also weariness among the electorate.
But as the recent government proposal to ban Muslim veils in public places it remains a live issue. Only Geert Wilders of the Populist Party for Freedom has made it a central campaign theme. Whether it brings the party back from the margins will be known soon.