Balkenende IV Falls

Our country is once again without a government. After a 15 hour crisis meeting to shore up the ramshackle remains of a coalition at the end of its collective tether, the cabinet fell at about 04:00 in the night of Friday to Saturday.

Not coincidentally, I’ve regained some respect for Wouter Bos in the last 12 hours.

Bos wanted to stick to an agreement made by this cabinet in 2007 when it first took office, that Dutch troops would be pulled out of Afghanistan at the end of 2010. Significantly, the majority of the population of this country still support the withdrawal of troops, as do an overwhelming number of politicians in the Dutch parliament. So, what could possibly be the problem?

Well, that agreement was made three whole years ago and you know what politicians are like. Bos’s CDA and CU colleagues felt that the cabinet should continue to discuss all options, which, of course, is not very well veiled political twaddle for wanting to ram their own will down the voters’ throat. Who cares about the will of the people or their elected representatives in Dutch parliament?

NATO recently issued a formal request for the Dutch to stay in Afghanistan beyond 2010, no doubt assuming that those in power would do the usual cowardly thing and bend to the will of their American masters. Not this time, though.

I don’t often find myself agreeing with the PvdA these days, but, to his credit, Bos wasn’t having any of it. An agreement is an agreement, he said, and the will of the people isn’t there to support other options, so why discuss them? No, Dutch troops must be out of Afghanistan by the end of 2010 and I’m not willing to discuss alternatives.

And, with neither side prepared to back down and lose face either towards the other coalition partners or, indeed, within their own party faction, the last drops of goodwill at the bottom of a barrel already more than vigorously scraped evaporated, leaving Bos no other choice but to resign from the cabinet. With that, he took the support of the PvdA with him, leaving the cabinet unable to continue to govern.

For Balkenende, our Harry Potter lookalike prime-minister, it’s the latest of four dissolved cabinets that he has led. Not once in the history of his four terms in office has he managed to see the job through to the end. Either the man is very unlucky or it’s time to draw an increasingly unavoidable conclusion. Time to write your memoires, perhaps, Jan Peter?

The government splintering into pieces is becoming business as usual in this country. Things could be a lot worse, though. Looking around, one could be forgiven for indulging in the wishful thinking that some other countries’ governments would throw in the towel. Seemingly, no scandal is large enough to bring about the demise of the government in many countries, notably the more powerful ones. The politicians themselves have no honour, so they remain in office long after they’ve been exposed and discredited as idiots and liars, and the public who put them there are too jaded to demand their resignation. Democracy in action, people.

At least the coalition system here ensures that the politicians ultimately end up trusting one another as little as we trust all of them. You have to at least be grateful that our forefathers built that little bit of amusing poetic justice into the system, don’t you?

Anyway, not much is going to get done here in the next few months. The queen will appoint a demissionary government, whose bums will serve to warm the seats of the next elected government of this land. By its very nature, though, this cabinet won’t be empowered to do much. One has to wonder how the current economic crisis will be navigated. What, for example, would happen if a Dutch bank appeared likely to keel over on Monday? It’s not clear that it could be prevented, even if the political will to do so were there.

Perhaps the hardest question of all is who to vote for in the summer, which is when the next general election will probably happen. No-one’s looking even remotely appealing.

There’s ample material there for another blog entry, though.

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