Balkenende’s prospects of being re-elected as prime minister are certainly not hopeless, says Dr Gerrit Voerman of the Documentation Centre for Dutch Political Parties. The leader of the CDA can make good use of his reliable image, especially if the campaign is dominated by the economic crisis. ‘If Balkenende encounters a setback, it only makes him try harder.’
For a moment, Balkenende’s position as CDA lead candidate seemed threatened. Party members as well as a number of prominent figures criticized the swift announcement of Balkenende as lead candidate for the new elections, after the fourth Balkenende-led cabinet fell. But now the ranks have closed again. ‘The CDA is most definitely heading into these elections with Balkenende as their leader’, says Voerman. ‘The CDA’s image is that of a reliable, decent party. A leadership revolution would damage this reliable image.’
But will the CDA be able to play the prime minister card? Balkenende has not managed to bring any one of his four cabinets to full term. This damages his image as an experienced leader who will be able to steer the country in a more stable direction. Voerman: ‘Balkenende ended up in a position of power by chance. The political career that he has built since then has clearly been marred by leadership problems. This means that he misses some essential qualities that a prime minister needs. This will certainly be used against him in the campaign.’
Balkenende’s success will depend on the themes that end up dominating the election campaign. If the debate will be on Islam and integration, Voerman expects Balkenende to have trouble. ‘The CDA does not have a particularly strong position on the question of integration. Wilders and Cohen, on the other hand, do have clear ideas on this, and will end up facing off on it. This will make it hard for Balkenende to get a word in.’
However, if the economic crisis dominates, then the CDA leader will have more of a chance of making an impression, Voerman thinks. ‘In that case, Balkenende will point to the success he had with his second cabinet. Balkenende II is seen as a reform cabinet that made bold changes to the pension and welfare systems.’ The fact that Balkenende’s fourth cabinet did not make any thorough economic reforms is something Voerman expects him to blame on the unwillingness of his coalition partner, the PvdA.
Balkenende’s prospects of being re-elected as prime minister are certainly not hopeless, says Voerman. The CDA may have lost out in the European Parliament and local elections, but Balkenende has repeatedly shown that he can regain lost ground in national elections. Voerman: ‘Balkenende’s current image is that of a prime minister who sometimes drops the ball, but is generally honourable and trustworthy. Based on that image, he can run an excellent campaign.’
Voerman expects that Balkenende will also not be daunted by the rumblings within his party. ‘This is far from the first time that his party has been critical of him. In 2004, an opinion poll showed that two thirds of CDA voters criticised him for lack of leadership. Figures such as Bert de Vries and Gerd Leers have also been strongly critical of him in the past. But Balkenende is a staunch Calvinist and a stubborn Zeelander. Setbacks only make him try harder.’
Dr Gerrit Voerman (1957) has been the leader of the Documentation Centre for Dutch Political Parties (DNPP) at the University of Groningen since 1989. In 2001 he received his PhD at the University of Groningen, writing about the Russian influence on the Dutch Communist Party in the years between the First and Second World Wars. Voerman’s publications include Verloren illusie, geslaagde fusie? GroenLinks in historisch en politicologisch perspectief (1999; with P. Lucardie and W.H. van Schuur), Om de stembus. Verkiezingsaffiches 1918-1998 (2002; with D.J. Elzinga), Zestig jaar VVD (2008; with P. van Schie) and Van de marge tot de macht. De ChristenUnie 2000-2010 (with J. Hippe). His current research includes investigating how political parties make use of new information and communication technology, and into party membership and the recruitment of political staff.
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More information: Gerrit Voerman
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