SP holds 27 key decision-making positions in 20 local authorities

19 April 2006

SP holds 27 key decision-making positions in 20 local authorities

Local elections in the Netherlands are usually followed in each town or district by complex negotiations between the various parties. Eventually two, three or more parties will reach an agreement and take office, forming what is known as a “college” to run the local authority. Members of these colleges are known as “wethouders” (literally 'keepers of the law'), roughly equivalent to Committee Chairs in the system used in England and Wales and many parts of the US, or to Conveners in Scotland. These colleges may be made up of parties of the left and centre-left, or of the various centre-right parties, but they often bring together elements from across the political spectrum.

Following the elections on 7th March, this process has been completed in almost every local authority area. The SP, having doubled its vote, is now participating in twenty governing coalitions in towns and cities great and small and has a total of twenty-seven “wethouders”, more than twice as many as before the elections.

On 7th March the SP became the biggest party in a seven local authority districts. In six of these - Heerlen, Oss, Doesburg, Boxmeer, Vught and Valkenburg aan de Geul.- it is now the senior party in the College, leading the council's executive body.

The SP and PvdA (Labour Party) were the most successful parties in the elections in relation to their performance last time, so that the number of councils in which the three left-of-centre parties - Labour, the SP and the Green Left - are in a majority rose to thirty-eight, despite the fact that the Green Left's vote dipped slightly. Yet in only six districts have the three parties been able to form a coalition. Of these, two were major towns: Groningen, with 180,000 inhabitants, and Nijmegen (158,000), where a very successful left College, in power for the last four years, has led to the ancient university city being dubbed "Havana on the Waal".

In a majority of major cities, including Amsterdam, Utrecht, Arnhem and Tilburg, Labour swiftly pulled out of negotiations on possible cooperation between the left-of-centre parties. According to political pundits the PvdA, led by Wouter Bos, is anxious in every respect to maintain, after the Parliamentary elections of May 2007, a free hand to opt for cooperation with the centre-right Christian Democrats (CDA) and Liberals (VVD), or with the SP and Green Left, as it sees fit.

Opinion polls have long pointed to a left majority in these approaching national elections, while SP leader Jan Marijnissen has been calling for months for Labour, SP and Green Left to draw up a 25-point accord to let voters know in advance what they might expect from a left government. Leading politicians from all three parties have actively supported this idea, but Labour leader Wouter Bos is refusing to say, prior to an election, with which party he would prefer to govern.

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