Election Resources on the Internet:
Elections to the Dutch Tweede Kamer (House of Representatives)
by Manuel Álvarez-Rivera

The Netherlands held a parliamentary election on Wednesday, March 15, 2017. An overview of the proportional representation system used to choose members of the lower house of the Dutch Parliament - the Tweede Kamer or House of Representatives - is presented here.

In addition, nationwide and provincial-level results are available here (and also in CSV format) for the following House elections:

      March 15, 2017      
      September 12, 2012      
      June 9, 2010      
      November 22, 2006      
      January 22, 2003      
      May 15, 2002      
      May 6, 1998      
      May 3, 1994      

Nationwide totals are also available for the following House elections:

      September 6, 1989      
      May 21, 1986      
      September 8, 1982      
      May 26, 1981      
      May 25, 1977      
      November 29, 1972      
      April 28, 1971      
      February 15, 1967      
      May 15, 1963      
      March 12, 1959      
      June 13, 1956      
      June 25, 1952      
      July 7, 1948      
      May 16, 1946      

The election statistics presented in this space come from reports and data files issued by the Dutch Electoral Council (Kiesraad) and Statistics Netherlands.

May 22-25, 2014 European election results are available here. The Dutch Electoral Council also has detailed, final results in Dutch of the 2014 European election in the Netherlands.

General Aspects of the Electoral System

The legislature of the Netherlands, the States-General, consists of a lower chamber, the Tweede Kamer or House of Representatives, whose members are directly elected by universal adult suffrage, and an upper chamber, the Eerste Kamer or Senate, whose members are chosen by the popularly elected Provincial Councils. Although both chambers must pass all legislative bills before they can become law, the Senate may not amend bills passed by the House of Representatives, which has greater legislative power than the Senate.

The House of Representatives is composed of 150 members elected for a four-year term of office. House elections since 1918 have been carried out by proportional representation, introduced in 1917. There are nineteen electoral districts, in which political parties submit lists of candidates. Parties may combine their lists for the distribution of House seats, and may submit the same list of candidates in each district, or different lists in different districts. Newly-formed parties, or existing parties that failed to obtain at least one House seat in the preceding general election are required to submit a deposit, which is forfeited in the event the party fails to poll at least one-half of one percent (0.5%) of all valid votes. Voters indicate a preference for one candidate in one party list.

House of Representatives seats are distributed on a nationwide basis among party lists that obtain a national electoral quota, calculated by dividing the total number of valid votes by 150, the number of House seats; this quota is equivalent to two-thirds of one percent of the vote, or approximately 0.67%. The number of votes won by each qualifying list or combination of lists is then divided by the electoral quota, and the result of this division, disregarding fractions, is the initial number of seats obtained by each list or combination of lists. Any seats that remain unallocated after the application of the electoral quota are distributed according to the largest average method (introduced in 1933, effective as of 1937), while seats won by combinations of lists (allowed since 1973) are distributed among constituent parties by the largest remainder method. If a party that has submitted different lists in different electoral districts wins seats in the House of Representatives, these are apportioned among its district lists by the largest remainder method as well.

List seats are allocated first to candidates whose preferential votes exceed one-quarter of the electoral quota, up to the total number of seats won by the list. However, if there remain unfilled list seats, these are allocated to candidates in the order in which they appear on the list.

The Political Parties

A multi-party system began to develop in the Netherlands during the late 19th and early 20th century. Although members of the House of Representatives were elected at the time by a restricted franchise in single-member constituencies under the two-round system of voting, Liberals, Radicals, Social Democrats, Catholics and two Protestant parties - the Anti-Revolutionary Party (ARP) and the Christian-Historical Union (CHU) - were all represented in Parliament.

In 1917, the two-round constituency system was replaced by proportional representation (PR) on a nationwide basis. As expected, the distribution of House seats under the new system accurately reflected the diverse political trends in Dutch society, but it also encouraged parliamentary fragmentation: the number of parties in the House rose from seven in 1913 to seventeen in 1918, eight of which held just one seat each. However, over the course of the next two decades the system was modified several times to make it more difficult for very small parties to win seats. Consequently, from 1922 to 1937 the average number of parties with parliamentary representation fell back to about eleven.

Since the introduction of PR, no single party has held an absolute majority in the House of Representatives, or for that matter come close to attaining one. Consequently, Dutch governments are always coalition governments of two or more parties. Although the formation of a new government is usually a painstakingly slow process in the Netherlands, cabinet instability has not been as much of a problem as in other European countries with highly fragmented party systems, such as Italy: since 1946, Dutch governments have lasted on average about two-and-a-half years in office.

After the end of World War II (in which the Netherlands was occupied by Nazi Germany from 1940 to 1945), the Dutch party system underwent several changes, the most notable being the reorganization of the Catholics as the Catholic People's Party (KVP); the establishment of the Labour Party (PvdA) as a merger of the Social Democrats with two smaller center-left parties; and the emergence of the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) as the successor of the pre-war Liberals. From 1946 to 1977, KVP and PvdA were the two largest parties, and KVP was part of every government during this time, usually joined by either or both of the two major Protestant parties, ARP and CHU, and sometimes by PvdA or VVD as well.

Between 1946 and 1956 there were no fewer than seven parties in the House of Representatives: KVP, PvdA, VVD, ARP, CHU, plus the Communist Party of the Netherlands (CPN) and the Protestant, ultra-conservative Political Reformed Party (SGP). However, a 1956 constitutional reform which increased the size of the House from 100 to 150 - thus lowering the electoral quota from one percent of the vote to two-thirds of one percent - made it easier for smaller parties to secure parliamentary representation, which in turn led to increased legislative fragmentation. In subsequent elections, the number of parties in the House of Representatives rose steadily, going from eight in 1959 to fourteen by 1972.

Until 1967, the three major Christian parties - KVP, ARP and CHU - usually held a majority of seats in the House of Representatives. However, in the general election held in February of that year, the KVP lost considerable ground - although it remained the largest party - and the Christian parties lost their overall House majority. Another significant development in the election was the appearance of a new social-liberal party, Democrats '66 (D'66).

In 1971, KVP, ARP and CHU agreed to run on a common platform, but all three parties lost further ground in the election; their decline became even more pronounced in a subsequent early vote held in 1972, when the three parties won between themselves less than one-third of the House seats. As a result, KVP, ARP and CHU formed in 1977 an electoral coalition, the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA), and subsequently merged as a single party (incidentally reducing the number of parties in Parliament to an average of ten since 1977).

The declining electoral fortunes of the three major Christian parties and their subsequent coming together as the CDA were symptomatic of a broader social phenomenon: the decline of pillarization (verzuiling), an arrangement under which political parties as well as labor unions, businesspeople's organizations, social and sport clubs, and numerous professional groups had been organized on the basis of membership in religious-ideological Roman Catholic, Protestant and Humanist pillars.

In the 1977 general election, PvdA won the largest number of seats, but CDA, which came in second place (registering slight gains over the combined results polled by its three constituent parties in 1972), formed a coalition government with VVD. This government remained in power until the 1981 general election, in which CDA topped the poll but the ruling coalition narrowly lost its absolute majority in the House of Representatives. The Christian Democrats then formed a short-lived coalition government with PvdA and D'66, which had scored substantial gains the election. In an early election held in 1982, Labour arrived in first place, but CDA formed a center-right coalition government with VVD, which polled strongly in the vote; D'66 was unable to hold on to its 1981 gains and suffered a major setback.

The CDA-VVD coalition government, headed by Christian Democratic leader Ruud Lubbers, was returned to power in the 1986 general election, in which the Communists lost their parliamentary representation. However, after the 1989 general election the ruling coalition's parliamentary majority was reduced to just two seats, and CDA chose to form a center-left coalition with PvdA, with Lubbers remaining as head of government. In the election, the Green Left (GL), an alliance of the Communist Party and three other radical left-wing groups, gained parliamentary representation; these subsequently merged into a single party.

At it was, the CDA-PvdA coalition government proved to be highly unpopular, and both parties fared poorly in the 1994 general election, in which the center-left government lost its parliamentary majority. Labour, which managed to win the largest number of seats despite heavy losses, then formed a coalition government with VVD and D66, which had its best result to date. PvdA leader Wim Kok became Prime Minister, heading the first government without Christian Democratic representation since 1918.

The so-called "purple" coalition of PvdA, VVD and D66 was returned to office with an enlarged majority in the 1998 general election; both PvdA and VVD scored significant gains - in fact, VVD polled its best result up to that point and finished second, behind PvdA - while D66 registered significant losses but still came up with a better than average result. At the same time, the election was a monumental disaster for CDA, which fell to third place in what was the worst election result polled by the party up to that point.

Nonetheless, CDA staged a comeback in the 2002 general election, under the leadership of Jan Peter Balkenende. Immigration and the integration of citizens of foreign descent and foreign residents - particularly those professing the Islamic faith - emerged as a major issue in the election, and a populist, anti-immigration party, List Pim Fortuyn (LPF) came out of nowhere to become the second largest party in the House of Representatives, despite the assassination of its openly gay leader, Pim Fortuyn, just days before the vote was held. The ruling "purple" coalition partners were all routed: Labour in particular fared very badly and slipped to an ignominious fourth place. Although CDA managed to put together a center-right coalition administration with LPF and VVD, the government collapsed after just three months in office. Consequently, an early election was held in January 2003, in which PvdA recovered most of its lost support and surged to a strong second place, just behind CDA, which remained the largest party. Meanwhile, LPF lost most of its voters and dropped to fifth place, while the left-wing Socialist Party (SP) - which has been represented in Parliament since 1994 - came in fourth place, outpolling the Green Left.

After the election, Balkenende formed another center-right coalition administration of his party with VVD and D66. This government remained in office until June 2006, when D66 pulled out over the handling of the controversy surrounding the naturalization of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a VVD member of the House of Representatives of Somali origin, and an outspoken critic of conservative Islam. Having lost its majority in the House of Representatives, Balkenende's government resigned, and an early election was held the following November.

In the 2006 general election, the Christian Democrats remained the largest single party (albeit with slight losses), while the Socialist Party soared to a strong third place, almost tripling its electoral following - largely at the expense of Labour, which suffered a major setback. VVD lost ground as well and slipped to fourth place, while D66 had its worst election result ever and List Pim Fortuyn (running in the election as Fortuyn) was wiped out, losing its remaining seats in the House of Representatives. However, both the rightist Party for Freedom (PVV), a VVD breakaway, and the Party for the Animals (PvdD), which advocates animal rights, secured parliamentary representation.

No combination of two parties secured an absolute majority in the new House of Representatives, and Balkenende remained at the helm of a minority CDA-VVD caretaker government until February 2007, when he formed a new, centrist coalition government composed of the Christian Democrats, Labour and the small Christian Union (CU). For the first time in the history of the Netherlands, there were two Muslim junior ministers in the Cabinet, which commanded a majority of ten seats in the House of Representatives.

After almost three years in office, Balkenende's fourth government collapsed in February 2010, when Labour - which opposed a NATO request to extend the Netherlands' military mission to Afghanistan - pulled out of the Cabinet. In an early general election held in June 2010, both Labour and the Christian Union emerged relatively unscathed with minor losses, but CDA polled its worst result up to that point and collapsed from first to fourth place. Among the opposition parties, VVD topped the poll for the first time ever, PVV soared to third place with more than twice as many votes as in 2006, and D66 recovered from its disastrous result in the preceding election. However, the Socialist Party incurred in heavy losses, although the leftist party still managed to poll its second-best result ever.

Following the election, VVD sought to form a minority coalition cabinet with CDA, supported from the outside by PVV, which would have commanded a parliamentary majority of just two seats. However, some Christian Democrats had serious misgivings about working with the anti-Islamic Party for Freedom, and coalition talks broke down at the beginning of September. Nevertheless, an agreement was subsequently reached, and VVD leader Mark Rutte formed a VVD-CDA minority government the following October.

However, in April 2012 Prime Minister Rutte's government collapsed after the Party for Freedom walked out of budget talks with VVD and CDA, due to disagreements over fiscal austerity measures to cut the budget deficit. As it was, both VVD and Labour registered significant gains in the ensuing early election held in September 2012; VVD topped the poll once more and had its best result ever, with Labour closely behind, while PVV lost ground but remained in third place - narrowly ahead of the Socialist Party - and CDA sank to its worst result ever, arriving in fifth place, just one seat ahead of D66. The following October, VVD and Labour reached an agreement to form a majority coalition government headed by Prime Minister Rutte.

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Last update: May 21, 2018.