A note on the country itself
First of all, the Netherlands is the same as Holland (in case you were wondering). Whilst the country’s travel website is actually www.holland.com, Holland is not a country. The country is known as the Netherlands. There are 12 provinces in the Netherlands and two of them are called Holland: North Holland and South Holland. The people speak Dutch, ride bicycles and yes, the capital is Amsterdam where many of us went as students. I myself hitched there in 1992 as part of a trio: the girl and I would hold up the cardboard sign requesting the lift which we had written in a Dutch coffee shop on arrival. When the lift stopped, the bloke who was accompanying us as part of the aforementioned trio would emerge from his hiding place and join us. I didn’t smoke anything but I did get into trouble for taking a photograph of one of the prostitutes on a whistle stop tour of the red light district. And I sang ‘Like a Virgin’ in a karaoke bar very badly. But I digress.
There are 3 main cities in the Netherlands: Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague. The Hague is where the parliament sits. The Beautiful South sang a song about Rotterdam. The Netherlands was one of the founding members of the European Union, the Eurozone, G10, NATO, the OECD and WTO. They are also part of Schengen. According to the World’s Press Freedom Index of 2016, they ranked 2nd in the world, after Finland. In 2013, the UN did a ‘World Happiness Report’ and according to that, the Netherlands ranked 7th.
The Elections this Wednesday
You are probably asking yourself: ‘Why do we care?’ In this weekend’s FT, Simon Kuper says that these elections are ‘the latest face-off between the two big global political movements: nativists versus internationalists’. Remember when we all breathed a sigh of relief after the Austrian elections in December 2016? Alexander Van der Bellen, the independent candidate (former Green party) won the election by a worryingly narrow margin. His rival, the far right candidate Norbert Hofer from the Freedom Party of Austria, was only 7 points behind him. Phew.
The Dutch elections have received a lot of press coverage because of the wild card right wing, xenophobic, populist candidate Geert Wilders; also known as Mozart because of his mad hair. All of the main parties have said they refuse to work with him in any sort of coalition government but he seems to be doing quite well and so they have to give him some clout.
The current prime minster of the Netherlands is Mark Rutte and he is from the centre right liberal party, the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD). Rutte governs in a coalition with the centre left Labour party who are struggling in the polls at the moment and may end up losing some of their seats. Actually they will lose some of their seats.
What Political Parties are there on offer?
Here is a list, in order of present size, i.e. where they come in the polls. The biggest is at the top:
The People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, VVD. Centre right. Present Prime Minster Mark Rutte is from this party. They have been the majority party since 2012 and presently hold 40 seats in the government.
Party for Freedom, PVV. Headed by Geert Wilders, the funny looking blonde one that they call ‘Mozart’. This party is the main challenger to the centre-right VVD above. It is in favour of austerity and a free market in Europe but also, famously, it’s leader has made no secret of the fact that he wishes to hold a referendum and leave Europe. They are anti-Muslims and take a strong stance on immigration. Wilders had worked as an independent MP for some years and founded this party in 2006. His party has gathered momentum amongst Dutch voters in this year’s campaigning, capitalizing on growing nationalist and anti-Islamic sentiment. It holds 12 seats in the government at present.
Christian Democratic Appeal, CDA. Centre Right. At present, VVD and CDA, both centre right parties, are polling 28% between them. Sybrand van Haersma Buma leads the Christian Democratic Appeal party and recently sought to follow PVV’s Geert Wilders in building on EU disillusionment, voicing aims for significant reform of the union. They hold 13 seats in the present government.
Democrats 66, D66. This is not the mark of the devil, no (that would be ‘666’). It is the Liberal party led by Alexander Pechtold. Pechtold is vying to increase the Democrats’ stance in government with policies including legalizing the production of weed. The party hold 12 seats in the present government.
Groen Links, Green Left, GL. Headed by Jesse Klaver. Both the D66 and the Green Left are largely unknown abroad but are big fish in the Netherlands. Klaver is only 30 and as such, has garnered appeal among younger votes. The Green Party hold 4 seats in the present government.
Socialist Party, SP. Led by Emile Roemer. It focuses on policies including affordable healthcare. They presently hold 15 seats.
Labour Party, PvdA. The 3 biggest left parties are the Green Left, the Socialist Party (SP) and the Labour Party (PvdA). They are polling 28% between them, the same as the 2 biggest centre right parties (above). The PvdA are part of the governing coalition led by Mark Rutter and are headed by Lodewijk Asscher, who is current Deputy Prime Minister. In the present government, they hold 35 seats. Asscher has faced criticism for his austerity measures.
The smaller parties are as follows:
Christian Unie, Christian Union; Partij vd Dieren, Party for the Animals; 50 Plus; SGP, Reformed Political Party and some other ones, too small to mention.
Is there a link to the polls so that we can keep an eye on how things are moving ourselves?
Yes. The Telegraph in their article earlier today referred to a poll, the link for which is here: http://peilingwijzer.tomlouwerse.nl/p/english.html
CNBC refer to the same poll in their article earlier today. You can also refer to the Europe Elects poll if you want an alternative. You can find them on twitter: @EuropeElects. It’s a good one to follow for all the stuff going on in Europe so make a note of it. There’s no web site as such. There seems to be a Facebook page and a twitter feed, that’s it.
What are these polls saying?
On 12.3.17, the polls put Mark Rutte’s VVD at 16%; Geert Wilders’ PVV at 13%; CDA and D66 at 12% each; GL at 11%; SP at 10% and the PvdA, who are part of the present governing coalition with VVD, have only 7%.
CNBC say that according to the Peilingwijzer poll today, the Liberals (Mark Rutte’s party) are in the lead and are set to win with 23-27 seats. Wilders has lost a bit of momentum in the last week but his party is still expected to do well and come second with around 21-25 seats.
With an estimated 18-20 seats, the Christian Democratic Appeal look set to come in third position, followed by the Democrats 66 (17-19), the Greens (15-17), the Socialist Party (14-16) and Labour (11-13).
Also according to CNBC, based on current figures, at least 5 parties will need to team up together to reach the 76 seats required to form a coalition government. The most likely outcome looks to be a coalition between the 4 parties that cover the centre spectrum: Liberals, Christian Democratic Appeal, Democrats 66 and Labour. The probability is that they will have to strike an allegiance with a fifth.
Rutte has previously ruled out the possibility of forming a coalition with Wilders, who was previously a member of his party until 2004.
Are the Dutch becoming more xenophobic?
In 2013, the Netherlands suffered 35 recorded incidents of discrimination against Muslims. Following a swathe of terrorist attacks in Europe, this increased to 466 in 2015. They are more concerned with the issue of ‘zorg’, according to Simon Kuper in the FT’s weekend magazine: that’s health care and care for the elderly.
Government in brief:
There are 150 seats in the Dutch parliament. Parliament are elected by Proportional Representation. To get 1 seat in parliament, you only need 0.67% of the national vote. To get a governing majority, the biggest party has to have over 76 seats (that’s just over half of the 150 seats). This rarely happens and hence the Netherlands usually have a coalition government, one of the likely results for a country that favours a PR style of voting. After the elections, the parliament appoints a senior politician for coalition talks before a Prime Minister is named. Since WW2, it has taken an average of 72 days to form a government. In 1977, it took 208! (Bloomberg, 10.3.17).
Government in more detail (only read this if you are super interested, otherwise you can skip over it and move on to the last paragraph):
The Netherlands is a parliamentary democracy. On behalf of the Dutch people, Parliament scrutinises the Dutch government and makes laws in cooperation with the Government. The Parliament of the Netherlands is called the States General and is bicameral, i.e. it consists of two chambers: the House of Representatives (Tweede Kamer der Staten-Generaal in Dutch) and the Senate (Eerste Kamer der Staten-Generaal). General elections for the House of Representatives are held at least every four years.
After the elections, not only is there a new House of Representatives, but there will also be a new Cabinet. The Cabinet comprises Ministers and State Secretaries. During the formation period, the various political parties negotiate about the formation of a new Cabinet for the next four years. Those political groups that are willing to cooperate with one another and together have a majority in Parliament, form a coalition. Subsequently, the so-called formateur chooses the Ministers and State Secretaries for the new Cabinet. The formation process must result in a Cabinet that is supported by a workable majority in the House of Representatives.
The Senate is one of the two chambers of the Dutch Parliament. It is not elected directly by the Dutch people. The main task of the Senate is co-legislation, but it is also the duty of the Senators to scrutinise the work of the Government. The members of the Senate are elected indirectly by the members of the provincial councils. The latter are elected directly by the Dutch people.
The main duties of the House of Representatives are co-legislation and checking that the Government carries out its work properly. The House of Representatives also plays an important role in policy-making. The members of the House of Representatives (MPs) are elected directly by the Dutch voters. In national general elections those people entitled to vote decide which 150 MPs will represent them during the next Cabinet term.
The above information taken from the official Dutch website for the House of Representatives (source cited below).
One to watch and concluding comments
Rutte and Wilders will have their first debate of the campaign on Monday evening, that’s tonight folks. It will be broadcast on Dutch channel NPO1 at 6.15, Dutch time. I’m sure you’ll be able to watch it live on http://www.npo.nl/eenvandaag-verkiezingsdebat/13-03-2017/AT_2068054 but it will be in Dutch, so I’d wait for the coverage in the press the next day or better still, just wait for the results on Thursday. There’s nothing we can do from here other than watch and wait. As for the Dutch, they have until 9pm on Wednesday to cast their votes.
FT magazine this weekend, Simon Kuper on the Dutch elections this Wednesday:
The Telegraph on Geert Wilders, 13.3.17:
Bloomberg who’s who guide to Dutch elections, 9.3.17:
Bloomberg guide to Dutch elections, 10.3.17:
Bloomberg article today, 13.3.17:
CNBC guide to Dutch elections, 13.3.17:
Difference between Holland/Netherlands:
How Parliament works in the Netherlands; responsibilities of Upper House, Senate and Lower House, House of Representatives (Tweede Kamer). This is the paragraph you could have skipped over, had you so wished:
Geert Wilders, AFP image featured in :
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