Why you should care about the Dutch election

Giosan, Alexandru

What’s happening? 

 

On the 22nd of November, the Dutch will head to the polls to elect a new government. The election was triggered by the resignation of the outgoing prime-minister, Mark Rutte, over coalition infighting over how to handle asylum-seekers. Rutte is not running for re-election, which means the Dutch will have a new prime minister for the first time since 2010. Given the nature of the Dutch electoral system, which has an extremely low electoral threshold to achieve parliamentary representation, many of the 26 parties in the running are expected to enter parliament. The polls are predicting an extremely tight race between the 4 most popular parties, all of which differ significantly in their proposals and hover around the 15% to 20% mark in the polls. 

 

Why should you care?

 

With immigration, housing and education proving to be some of the biggest concerns on voters' minds, the status of international students and migrants is at stake. Some parties have publicly blamed international students and migrants for being the cause of the ongoing housing crisis. Some have suggested that the country could face a labour shortage if international students continue to study in the Netherlands, only to move out after completing their studies. Other proposals range from phasing out of English-language education in favour of Dutch to outright leaving the European Union.

 

Who’s running and what do they stand for?

 

Rutte’s centre-right party, the VVD has seen its support dwindle since the last election but is still the frontrunner according to some polls. They have chosen Dilan Yesilgoz, the current justice minister, to lead the party into the election. Of Turkish-Kurdish descent, she came to the Netherlands as a refugee at the age of 7 and started out her political career with left-wing parties. Since joining the VVD, she has taken a more aggressive stance against immigration and has shifted the party to the right. Unlike Rutte, she has not ruled out cooperation with right-wing parties. Many, however, still see the VVD as a safe choice, as their last 13 years in power have brought about stability and consistent economic growth under Rutte. 

 

After years of not being able to coalesce under a common block, the 2 biggest left-wing parties (PvdA and GroenLinks) have united under Frans Timmermans as their candidate for prime minister. Timmermans, a political veteran with decades of experience, credited with the creation of the controversial Green New Deal, has centred his campaign around the issue of climate change and more progressive taxation. His manifesto pledges include capping rent prices and building hundreds of thousands of housing units. He has also stressed the economic importance of migration and cooperation with the EU. He has left his position of European Commissioner for Climate Action to lead the party into this election and has urged left-wing voters to vote tactically, in order to give his block the first chance at forming a government.

 

The far-right party of Geert Wilders (PVV) has surged in the polls in the days before the election after initially being disregarded as a major candidate. He has stood out for his inflammatory comments on Islam, calling for the Koran to be outlawed and stating that he “hates Islam”. He has also expressed his desire for Netherlands to leave the European Union. With Rutte out of power, this is his chance to enter government for the first time. Throughout the campaign, he has tried to tone down his Eurosceptic and Islamophobic stances in order to gain some of the moderate centre-right voters that are disenchanted with the political establishment, which has helped his party grow in most of the polls leading up to the election.

 

The NSC, is the newest and also the most ambiguous of the bunch. After initially surging in the polls during the start of the campaign, the party’s numbers have since decreased in the polls. Its leader, Pieter Omtzigt has risen to prominence after playing a key role in uncovering a scandal over childcare benefits in which 31,000 parents were falsely accused of benefit fraud. He quit his previous party and created the NSC, a self-described “neither left or right” party. He has described the party as left-leaning on social issues and social security but right-leaning on issues like migration. He has proposed capping the number of international students and has proposed limiting English-language education, a proposal slammed by universities and the outgoing education minister. Throughout the campaign he has not dropped any hints as to who his preferred coalition partners are and has even said that he does not wish to be prime minister. This positions the NSC as the likely kingmaker in any coalition talks. 

 

Other parties that could play a significant role in coalition talks include the centrist D66, a progressive party that positions itself slightly to the right of the PvdA and GroenLinks, that is popular in big cities and university campuses. After coming second in the previous election, held in 2021, the party has experienced a fall in support and is now expected to garner around 6% of the vote. The BBB (Farmer-Citizen Movement), is yet another party that could be a potential kingmaker. They started out as a single-issue party, focusing on farmer discontent and agrarian issues but have at one point become the largest party in the country according to polls. Since winning big in provincial elections earlier this year, riding a wave of discontent with the political establishment, they have seen their support erode during the campaign, likely because most of its voters have shifted to other right-leaning parties. Their support now hovers around 4%. 

 

What comes next?

 

Since the largest party gets the first chance at forming a government, the party that finishes first is also likely to end up nominating the prime minister. This is why in the days before the election, the leaders of the 4 biggest parties have urged their supporters to vote tactically and avoid “wasting” their vote on smaller parties. According to a recent poll, 63% of voters have not yet decided who they’re voting for.  

 

 

 

There are 2 things that we know for sure. Firstly, the coalition talks are likely to take a long time. Rutte’s government formation talks lasted a record-breaking 299 days after the last election, and the eventual government was made up of largely ideologically similar parties. The extent to which the parties differ this time round is likely to make negotiations even more difficult. The second thing we know for sure is that small parties will likely play a crucial role in these negotiations. The eventual prime minister will have the difficult task of bringing a big number of parties together and the even more difficult task of governing alongside them. Whoever that ends up being, we wish them luck.  

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