Will the PvdA make it to the next elections?


Left-wing parties have been in the dark for the past decades, and that is especially true for social democratic parties.

PvdA poster from 1948

In September, the PvdA members can choose a new party chairman. No fewer than five candidates have applied for this position so far. It may come as some surprise that so many candidates still want to try to keep the sinking ship afloat. Few people will doubt that the PvdA is a sinking ship. In the last parliamentary elections, the Social Democrats won just as many, or rather as few seats as the previous time, namely 9. For a party that really had 38 parliamentary seats not so long ago, that is a very small number. Especially when you consider that 38 is considerably less than the more than 50 seats that the PvdA has ever held.

The party celebrated its 75th anniversary this year, a period in which it served in governments thirteen (if you include the Schermerhorn cabinet, fourteen) times and in which it provided three prime ministers. But it is highly questionable whether another 75 years will be added. It is even questionable whether the PvdA in its current form will still make it to the next elections. Because how on earth could she reverse the downward trend?

Remaining in the opposition benches will probably yield little, as recent experience shows. But co-governing is by no means a guarantee of success. This became apparent during the reign of Rutte II, which was crowned by the PvdA with the largest election defeat ever. Perhaps the party’s decline started at that time and the Social Democrats should never have ruled with the VVD, certainly not without a third partner. But it is also possible that the first signs of deterioration became visible at a much earlier stage.

In the early 1990s, the party already dipped in the polls. Due to the successful performance of Wim Kok, and after him of Wouter Bos, the damage was limited for a while. And in 2012 she probably benefited from the fact that the VVD, together with the CDA, had formed a tolerance coalition with the PVV during the previous cabinet term. Former party leader Diederik Samsom was therefore able to give the impression that there was also an ‘honest story’ to tell.

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Meanwhile, the PvdA has been minimized. She shares that sad fate with numerous sister parties in neighboring countries such as Germany, Belgium and France. Left-wing parties have been in the dark for the past decades, and that is especially true for social democratic parties. This may be because many of the ideals they set themselves in the past have been achieved, although there are still some things to be desired.

But whatever the cause, things are going badly for the PvdA. Is there really a way out? You can, of course, hope for a miraculous resurrection. That happens every now and then in politics. D66, to cite an example of a more or less kindred spirit, scored zero seats in some polls in 2006. There were serious voices to disband the party. But thanks to charismatic leaders such as Alexander Pechtold and Sigrid Kaag, she now has 24 MPs and is the number two in the country.

In other words, miraculous rescues are not out of the question, certainly not in theory. But if there are no signs in the short term that such a revival is imminent, then there will be little choice but to merge with GroenLinks. Even that may not offer solace in the long run. Because with GroenLinks things are even worse than with the PvdA. Together, based on the latest election results, these two parties would not win more than 17 seats. That is less than half the number that the PvdA still had on its own at the beginning of 2017.

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