Thursday, August 28, 2014

Are the Dutch heading for a far-right landslide?

Dutch far-right leader Geert Wilders is a fairly well known figure, even outside the Netherlands. His polarising policies have split his home country, and he has attracted both fans and protesters in many other places.
However, after a disappointing showing in the European Parliament election, it may be time to take a look at exactly how Wilders is performing in his home country, and whether he is actually likely to win government or have any influence on politics there.

The last election

At the last Dutch general election, the results were not exactly good for Wilders. His Party for Freedom secured 10.1% of the vote, down from about 15.4%. The rest of the results are below.

After this election, a coalition was formed between Labour and the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD). This coalition replaced the previous alliance between the VVD and Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) with outside support from the Party for Freedom (PVV).


After the election, the government peformed poorly in the polls. A drop in support for the VVD allowed Labour to take the lead during late 2013, but the VVD came back, and, despite only polling an average of about 20%, managed to take the lead until September, where a resurgent PVV, polling at about 18%, overtook them. During this period, Labour plummeted, falling from 22% to just 10.8% (3/10/2013).  Little else happened during this period, other than an increase for 50PLUS to about 7% (with a peak of 12.5% in March), and a small bounce for Democrats '66 (D66) (8% at election to about 14% at that point)

Even when the PVV were in the lead during this period, they would only have had 27 seats, which is hardly a basis for government. A pro-euro coalition of VVD+Labour+D66+CDA would still have 80 seats, a safe basis for a government.

But, things have happened since last October. A meeting in March in which Wilders attacked Moroccan immigration, despite not having an instant negative impact on PVV polling, appears to have set off a slide of some sort, and PVV dropped from 17.7% in February to just  14.5% in the most recent polls (31 July).

In fact, the only party that has experienced some sort of bounce in the past two years is the D66 (8% at election, 15.7% at most recent poll), which is rather moderate and pro-Euro.


While the PVV are unlikely to become the cornerstone of any government any time soon, the fact is that the Dutch political landscape is going to become much more fragmented after the next election.

A useful measure of fragmentation is the so-called 'effective number of political parties'. In order to calculate this, all of the percentages of the party votes (or seats) are squared, and added together. The number 1 is than divided by this figure.

At the 2012 election, this figure was 5.94. According to the most recent Ipsos poll, this number will balloon to 7.70 at the next election. With the largest party at only 20%, this will make the Netherlands political system much more like Israel's, with broad coalitions that are designed more to avoid certain ideologies, rather than small coalitions of large parties. A pro-EU coalition of VVD+D66+CDA+Labour would still have a majority, but this is more of an Israel-style coalition government than is normal in the Netherlands.

Monday, August 25, 2014

The likelihood of Japanese constitutional revision

Recently, there has been some talk about whether Japan will change its currently fairly pacifist constitution to allow for the possibility of a larger, more powerful military. While Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appears to have some support for such a change, there are some rather serious obstacles that are in his way if this is what he wants to do.

What is the problem?

The particular part of Japan's constitution that prohibits a large, powerful military is Article 9. This states that 'land, sea and air forces shall never be maintained'. In order to change this, a two-thirds vote in both houses of the Japanese parliament, plus a referendum, is required. I will focus on the bill passing Parliament, and ignore the referendum, for the moment.

The House of Representatives

In the House of Representatives, the governing coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party (Abe's party) and the Buddhist New Komeito party hold a two-thirds majority. Looking at this, one would assume that it would be easy to pass the amendment through the Representatives. Wrong. The problem with this assumption is that the New Komeito party strongly oppose any change to Article 9. The table below shows how the forces in the House line up on a repeal of Article 9.

I could not find clear information  on New Party Daichi or the independents, and as a result they are not included.

This looks pretty straightforward. There is a clear two-thirds majority in favour of repealing Article 9. However, the main fly in the ointment is the Restoration Party. First, the Restoration Party is in coalition with the Unity Party (an ironically named split-off from Your Party), and as a result would not be quite as free to support a repeal as this graph implies. Second, despite extensive searching, I cannot quite pin the Restoration Party down as entirely opposing Article 9.In fact, the only party that clearly opposes Article 9, other than the LDP (which I assume opposes it for the purpose of this article) is the Party for Future Generations.

Also, the Your Party is only on record (as I could find it) as supporting some constitutional revision, and its support may not extend to a full repeal of Article 9.

This makes it harder for the LDP. Unless they could entice a few of the more conservative Democrats to cross the floor, the only option is to do a deal with Future Generations and Restoration and Your, or (more likely, given the ultranationalist position of many within Future Generations) with Restoration and/or Your alone. Anyway, the LDP's biggest problem is that some of their members may cross the floor, which would sink their chances entirely.

But, for the sake of argument, let's assume that it passes. It then goes to the House of Councillors, which is the biggest challenge.

House of Councillors

Again, the same table from above, only with House of Councillors numbers instead.
This is also pretty clear. The pro-Article 9 parties hold a majority in the upper house. Most of the parties supporting Article 9 are fairly rusted on, and while a few conservative Democrats will cross the floor, the bill will probably fall here, at least in the current parliament.

The House of Councillors cannot be dissolved, and does not go to the polls until 2016, the same year when a Representatives election will have to be held. If the House of Councillors result in 2016 gives anti-Article 9 forces a 2/3 majority, Abe will have to rush the bill through before the Representatives election, just in case he loses his majority. Rushing the bill through will be very hard, and there would be an enormous incentive for pro-Article 9 members to delay the bill as much as possible.


We also need to look at what is happening in the meantime. The economy in Japan is still in bad shape, and if Abe spends most of his time trying to pass this amendment, and not fixing the economy, the quest to repeal Article 9 may be perceived as a sideshow to distract voters from the economy.

Abe has been in this place before. In the run-up to the 2007 House of Councillors election, Abe was unable to get the electorate to focus on his chosen issue, textbooks and Japan's history. Instead, voters punished the LDP for its involvement in the loss of pension records, and Abe lost his majority in the House of Councillors.

The LDP are a notoriously unsentimental party, and any slide in opinion polls (or a movement towards the opposition by New Komeito) would probably be enough to cause the party to dump Abe in favour of a more moderate candidate.

In conclusion, it appears that the likelihood of Article 9 changing with the current procedures for constitutional reform in the current parliament is low.