Fifty Shades of Dutch Politics

Billboard with posters of parties taking part in the Dutch parliamentary elections standing in front of the Dutch parliament.

Today, the Dutch people will be voting for a new parliament. In the last years, the Netherlands finally came out of the economic recession of 2008, and it had its share in the European migrant crisis. The current coalition of VVD (People’s Party of Freedom and Democracy, conservative liberal) and the PvdA (Labour Party, social-democrat) sorted out all major problems, so the Dutch have the time and wealth to be dissatisfied again. Dissatisfied about Islam, dissatisfied with Black Pete, dissatisfied about the European Union, you name it. On the other hand, there is also a growing problem with the environment, and we slowly realize that we should act on this. I will try to guide you through the Dutch political horizon, and the developments that will determine the elections results.

Right wing field: the choice of populism versus populism

‘Act. Normal.’ [1]Our Prime Minister opens the campaign of his VVD with their new slogan. Throughout history, there might not be a sentence as Dutch as ‘act normal’, which completely embodies Dutch mentality.

The campaign tactics of the VVD this election are not hard to figure out. They try to adhere to the rhetorics of the voters of Wilders’ PVV (Party for Freedom, populist), by implying that they too see the problems with immigration. Prime Minister Rutte even published a one page add in major newspapers, in which he told everyone they have to adapt to Dutch customs, or just leave the Netherlands.

On the other hand, the PVV retains their popularity. People interviewed in the street say things like “We want to reset Dutch politics”, “He’s the only one that sees the immigration problem”, “The Islam will destroy Dutch culture.” It is not a secret that there are a lot of dissatisfied Dutch, who blindly follow Wilders. His campaign started with a tweet with their manifesto, which was exactly 1 A4 long. 11 points, focusing on “deislamizing” the Netherlands, and adhering to the people’s will to “Make The Netherlands ours again.” Following his American colleague, president Trump, Wilders mainly ran his campaigning through Twitter. He refused to give interviews, refused to show up on television debates, and because of a security issue, skipped public appearances. His programme is also so extreme, that all the large parties have ruled out forming a coalition with the PVV. Which, obviously, had their effect on the polls…

The battle for second place

The VVD tried to make this campaign about the PVV versus the VVD, but they didn’t account for the mid-sized parties: the D66 (Democrats ’66, social-liberal), CDA (Christian Democratic Appeal, Christian-Democratic) and GroenLinks (GreenLeft, ‘green’ social-democrats).

The VVD and PVV were predicted to be miles ahead of their political opponents, so they decided to skip some television debates. This was not a smart move, because both the D66 and CDA, with established politicians leading them, came out quite strong and rose in the polls.

Newcomer Jesse ‘Jessias’ Klaver, the young political leader of GroenLinks, ran an unorthodox campaign. Inspired by American politics, GroenLinks organized ‘meet-ups’, large political rallies, where he spoke about the vision of GroenLinks. This way of campaigning is not common in the Netherlands, and Klaver quickly rose in popularity.

Every group in the Netherlands wants to be heard

A new trend in this election is the rising of political parties with very specific demographic groups as their supporters. 50PLUS, the party that primarily wants to improve the economic situation of the elderly, had quite a surge in the polls, but they crashed hard when it turned out even they themselves didn’t know how to pay their lavish retirement fund ideas.

Another new player in the political spectrum is the “DENK” (Dutch for “think”) movement, which was established by two members of the PvdA after they left/were kicked out. They represent the non-western immigrant groups in the Netherlands, and want to ban institutional discrimination. Other new parties that make a chance of obtaining a seat are the Pirate Party, who want to improve digital rights, the Forum for Democracy, which is a Nationalist Eurosceptic party that wants to re-introduce direct democracy, and For the Netherlands, who want to introduce a flat tax rate, and favor a small government.

So what happens now?

Today, the Netherlands will vote for a new government. According to current polls, the five largest parties will receive an almost comparable amount of votes, with the VVD leading with 17%, and GreenLeft on 11%. While the Dutch basically invented coalition forming (see: poldermodel), this formation will be one of the hardest ever. The smallest coalition will have at least 4 parties, and the large parties are all on a different side of the political spectrum.

If the political parties stand their ground and do not form a coalition with the PVV, the most plausible coalition is that of VVD + D66 + CDA + GL. There will be heavy negotiations, but in the past, they have proved that they can work together if they must. Most of their defining ideas will probably not make it, but sustainability and tax cuts might be the core principles of this coalition.

Another possible, but less plausible, option is a grand coalition of the Left: SP (Socialist Party) + CDA + PvdA + GL + D66, but this would require support of the CDA-leader, which he has ruled out in the past. However, the promise of being the Prime Minister might change his opinion.

If last elections were about choosing the parties that would save the Netherlands, these elections will be about choosing the parties that will improve the Netherlands, a country where a lot of people have a lot of different opinions. With five political parties having an equal chance to be the largest, everything could happen until the last vote is count.

Evrim Hotamis is a Dutch medical student, and member of the liberal youth party Young Democrats (Jonge Democraten).

[1]The slogan could also translate to behave normally, but the play on words is that you can read the sentence both as (the VVD) acts & (the VVD) is normal and (the VVD) thinks that everyone should) behave normally.

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