Dutch government risks historic Senate minority

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The rightist Dutch government, reliant on an anti-Islam party to pass laws through parliament, risks being dealt an historic minority in Senate elections Monday, impairing its policy-making.

"Simply, the programme of the government is at stake," Free University of Amsterdam political scientist Andre Krouwel told AFP.

"If it (the government) does not get a majority, it is the left that will have all the fun and can block whatever (policy) it wants."

In March, the Netherlands voted for 12 provincial councils, choosing 566 deputies who will be charged in turn with electing the 75-member Senate -- the upper house of Parliament, on Monday.

If the provincial deputies vote strictly along party lines, predictions give 37 of the 75 Senate seats to a grouping comprising 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 short of the majority required to pass laws through the veto-wielding Senate -- the first time since 1918 that a Dutch government finds itself in this position.

"It seems evident that we will get between 36 and 38 seats," Prime Minister Mark Rutte told a press conference on Friday at the end of the weekly cabinet meeting.

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 would find it extremely difficult to pursue its rightist programme of budget cuts and tougher immigration measures backed by the PVV, but maligned by the opposition.

The VVD-CDA minority government that came to power in national elections last June already relies on an unstable pact with Wilders's PVV to pass laws through the 150-seat lower house of parliament, from where they go to the Senate for approval.

In exchange, the PVV gets a bigger say in policy formulation without being an official part of the government.

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

The VVD-CDA-PVV alliance may yet be able to convince provincial senators of other, smaller parties to vote for them on Monday and so give it a majority in the upper house, though Krouwel said this was unlikely.

There is also an outside chance of cooperation with the fundamentalist Christian SGP party, which shares some of the governing coalition's ideas on the economy and immigration, and is expected to get two senate seats.

The VVD-CDA government came to power in elections last June after a centre-left coalition led by the Christian Democrats collapsed four months earlier in a spat over extending Dutch military support to Afghanistan.

© 2011 AFP

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