Rightist Dutch government dealt Senate blow

3rd March 2011, Comments 0 comments

The rightist Dutch government, backed by an anti-Islam party, appeared headed Wednesday for a historic minority in the Senate which analysts have warned could paralyse its policy-making.

An exit poll from the provincial vote gave 35 out of 75 Senate seats to an alliance of the pro-business, liberal VVD party, the Christian Democratic Action (CDA) and the Party for Freedom (PVV) of controversial anti-Islam MP Geert Wilders.

That is three short of the majority required to pass laws through the veto-wielding Senate -- the first time since 1918 that a Dutch government will find itself in such a position.

Individually, the poll conducted by market research company Synovate said the VVD should get 16 seats (up from 14 in 2007), the CDA 10 (down from 21) and the PVV, which took part in its first-ever provincial elections, nine.

"It is a very hard blow for the government," Free University of Amsterdam political analyst Andre Krouwel told AFP, adding that Wednesday's vote was akin to a referendum on the cabinet and its far-right partner.

"It is not yet the death knell, but it will be extremely difficult for the government to pursue its rightist programme" of budget cuts and tougher immigration measures backed by the PVV but maligned by the opposition.

In an unusually closely watched election for the country's 12 provincial councils, voters chose 566 deputies who will be charged in turn with electing the Senate, along party lines, on May 23.

Krouwel said the governing alliance was hurt by apathy among PVV voters and a protest stay-away from CDA supporters incensed by their leaders' cooperation with Wilders, who advocates a ban of the burqa and the Koran in his campaign against the "Islamisation" of the Netherlands.

Wilder, who faces trial for inciting hatred against Muslims, provides the majority the VVD-CDA government needs to pass laws through the 150-seat lower house of parliament, from where they go to the upper house Senate for final approval.

In exchange, his PVV gets a bigger say in policy formulation.

Without a Senate majority, the government would be forced, on a case-by-case basis, to seek support for its laws from opposition parties.

"It is possible that the government will get some budget cuts through the Senate, though less than the 18 billion euros ($25 billion) it hopes for. Its anti-immigration programme will be a big problem," Krouwel said.

Analysts have said that repeated Senate rejection of its laws may finally leave the government no option but to quit.

Krouwel stressed that things could still change. The VVD-CDA-PVV alliance may yet be able to convince provincial senators of other, smaller parties to vote for them in May's Senate elections and so give it a majority in the upper house.

The provincial councils are responsible for spatial planning and construction of roads, water management and supervision of municipalities.

© 2011 AFP

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