Voters in the Netherlands have come out on Wednesday 12 September 2012 to vote in favour of Europe, against the populism of a Geert Wilders and against the defamation of emigrants. Shocking, however, was the enormous blow dealt to the centrist Christian-democratic party. The Christian Democratic Appeal CDA lost two thirds of its seats in less than three years time and was reduced to 13 seats in the 150-member lower house. All together, Christian parties now hold 21 seats. In 1963 their number was 80. Last Wednesday, we witnessed the breakdown of Christian democratic politics in the Netherlands.
Goodbye to all that
Large Catholic and Protestant Christian-democratic parties dominated the Dutch political landscape of 20th century. The reason for this was that no political party could secure an absolute majority in elections. So, only if political opponents were prepared to work together, they could create a majority necessary to form a stable government. Often, Christian-democratic parties held the key to political stability and they would either work together or join up with social-democrats, conservatives or liberals.
After WW II, however, the influence of the Christian-democratic parties declined. In 1963, the Catholic People’s Party KVP took 50 seats, but already nine years later in 1972 there were just 27 seats left. In 1963, the five or six Christian parties together got about 53 percent of the vote; in 2012 a mere eight or nine.
There is no doubt about it, at the end of a long process of secularisation and emancipation within Dutch society, the era of large and influential Christian-democratic parties is over. Even if the CDA were to make a comeback in the next elections, this will evidently not occur because of the “C” in its name. To turn the tide, a charismatic leader seems more expedient.
Happy or sad?
If the weekly “Katholiek Nieuwsblad” (Catholic Newspaper) is to be believed, Christians shouldn’t feel too bad about what has happened. After all, these so-called Christian CDA politicians had become much too liberal anyway and merely obscured orthodox Church teachings. Hence, KN suggested its readers more than once to vote for conservative, fundamentalist Protestant parties.
There are, however, good enough reasons to be sad. The CDA (itself a union of the KVP and two Protestant parties) was a party of the centre and as such it greatly contributed to stability in Dutch politics and society. A catch phrase of former Prime Minister Dries van Agt clearly illustrates the concept of a centre party. In 1977, he said: “We do not bow to the left, we do not bow to the right.”
Furthermore, the CDA had cast itself as a people’s party and, indeed, it functioned as a platform were people from all walks of life could meet, discuss and become active in politics themselves. Often its members and voters had a religious background. It all added to more political and social cohesiveness.
And lastly, the CDA was an open ecumenical Christian faith based party, which was not afraid to make its hand dirty every now and then.
Where do we go from here?
Not far, many fear. In politics, there is no party which could fill up the vacuum in the centre. This is a great loss and what is worse the Christian voice is now reduced to a soft whisper. A large Christian party could have moderated, for example, further liberalisation of legislation or oppose exaggerated government interventionism.
Without an appropriate tool, Christian voices raised inside or outside of Parliament are merely insignificant footnotes of the dominant political discourse. This is the Dutch reality, which is by the way a European reality as well. (FH)
For the results, read Victory for the centre in Dutch elections. For those of you who read Dutch, you will find an interesting analysis at the web pages of the Reformatisch Dagblad (because of obligatory Sunday rest not available on Sundays). For a good analysis in German language, see Deutschlandfunk.