Large-scale electoral meltdowns are relatively rare. In Italy in 1994 the Christian Democrats went from having been the biggest party in every election since the late 1940s to virtual wipe-out. In Spain in 1982 the Union of the Democratic Centre, which had dominated the first parliament after the transition to democracy, fell from 168 seats to just 12, and effectively ceased to exist. The biggest single defeat for any party was probably that of the Progressive Conservatives in Canada in 1993, who fell from 151 seats to just two, though they later recovered. By all accounts, Fianna Fáil, the ruling party in Ireland, is facing electoral meltdown on Friday.
It is more than 100 days since the Dutch general election, and the party leaders are only now coming to a final decision as to who will form the new government. But the interregnum has stretched even longer than that. The last government collapsed on 20 February, following a conflict between the two leading parties, the Christian Democrats (CDA) and Labour, over the issue of continued Dutch troop involvement in Afghanistan, and the election was called for 9 June, almost four months down the line. Since then, the Netherlands has been governed by a so-called ‘demissionary’ (demissionair) or caretaker government, with CDA ministers taking over the functions of their former Labour colleagues. This holding operation has been running for more than seven months.
Last month, the Dutch coalition government collapsed on the issue of the involvement of Dutch troops in Uruzgan. The Dutch parliament had earlier voted for the troops to be brought home by August, a policy supported by the Labour party, the second party in the coalition. The dominant Christian Democrats disagreed, and wished to accede to a US and Nato demand for a further extension of their troops’ engagement. The breach between the governing parties was unbridgeable, and the coalition broke up. This was the first Nato government to collapse over Afghanistan, and one of very few governments to have collapsed over a foreign policy dispute.