The Weekend Politics Thread Goes Dutch

Hello, this is your guest WPT host Lapalazala. Cajun Clearwater kindly lend me this spot.

This Wednesday here in The Netherlands we had our provincial elections*. The results were not great for two reasons. First, the biggest winner is a new party called Forum for Democracy (FvD). They are a climate-sceptic, anti-immigration, EUrosceptic party. Their leader Thierry Baudet, featured in the header-image, fashions himself a classical intellectual and has an enormous ego, also featured in this image. Let’s quote some excerpts from his victory speech to get an idea what we’re dealing with here. This is translated from Dutch, but don’t think much was lost in translation. It’s at least as convoluted in Dutch.

“Dutch voters have spread their wings like Minerva’s owl and shown their true power. The owl of wisdom took flight and set in motion the complete earth’s circle.”

“It’s masochistic heresy, this secularised belief in a flood that has mastered the hearts and minds of our rulers. A mania comparable to the death cult that once plagued Easter Island.”

“We have to pay, parrot our power hungry rulers the ecological high priests. It’s pure oikophobia, pure self hatred.”

“Our land is part of that [Western] family of civilisation. But just like other countries in our boreal world, we are being destroyed by those who should protect us.”

He’s doing a few things his speeches. Our current government is preparing some pretty ambitious plans to lower carbon emissions. Baudet is playing into the sentiment that climate change is a hoax and that The Netherlands is doing far more than our fair share to combat it. Both are far from the truth, we currently are amongst the heaviest polluters in Europe. Baudet doesn’t care about facts and muddies the conversation with fake numbers. His speeches also are full of racist dog whistles, glorifying western civilisation. For instance “boreal”, an obscure word for Northern, is only used by white supremacists to reference mythical origins of the Northern European civilisation. Of course Baudet says this is coincidental when confronted, but this word is never used outside of that context. Unsurprisingly, he often flirts with alt-right figures like Jordan Peterson.

And lastly, he is tapping into the distrust people have of the government. I have to admit our current government has done some things that makes this pretty easy. He’s trying to convince people he is a new kind of ruler, that can save this country. Just like Trump, he wants to impress voters. Trump does this by bragging about his (alleged) wealth and business acumen. Baudet does it by showcasing his “superior intellect”. Apparently a lot of people are falling for this, in all layers of society.

So it’s not great that they won, although winning in this case means that they got 14% of the vote. This brings me to the second reason the results of this election are not great. The fact that no party got over 14% is a problem. Let that sink in. The biggest party in these elections got just one in seven votes.

The Netherlands is a true multi-party democracy. Even though I still thinks this is generally better than the de-facto two party systems of the US and UK, this last decade the downsides are really showing. To explain why, let’s start with a crash course on the Dutch political system. If you’re interested in a much deeper dive, you can read this primer on Dutch politics.

Basically we have a two chamber system**. The Tweede Kamer (second chamber, comparable to the UK house of commons or US house) is where laws and policy are made. There are elections for this every four years, unless the government falls. Only seven governments since WWII completed their term. These elections are based on true representation. There are 150 seats so 0.66% of the vote is good for one seat. After the elections, a government has to be formed by making a coalition of parties that ideally have a combined majority of the seats and get along well enough on policy to form a stable government. This is getting harder and harder, because the political landscape is getting more and more splintered. At the most recent election for the Tweede Kamer in 2017, the winner (VVD) only got 33 seats, 22% of the vote. Negotiations to form a government took seven months and we ended up with a four party coalition that just has the bare minimum of a majority with 76 of the 150 seats.

Then there is the Eerste Kamer (first chamber, comparable to the US senate). All laws must also pass the Eerste Kamer with a simple majority. This is where the elections of this week come into play. The seats in the Eerste Kamer are not directly elected, but instead indirectly through the provincial governments elected in the provincial elections. This is a bit complicated and many people don’t really know or care what provincial governments do, so turnout is a lot lower. At 56% turnout was actually pretty high this time, but it’s nothing compared to the 82% turnout for the Tweede Kamer elections in 2017.

If a government wants to pass laws, it helps a lot if they have a majority in both chambers. This Wednesday, the current government lost their majority in the Eerste Kamer. So to pass laws they now need a fifth party from the opposition to support them. This might be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how it plays out. The current government can be qualified as center-right by Dutch standards. Translated to US politics this broadly puts it about on par with the Democratic Party policywise. They could try to get support from the FvD, pushing them to the right. But it seems at least as likely they will seek support with left-wing parties, pushing them to the left. This can be done on a case-by-case basis and a lot of political considerations come in to play, so it’s hard to predict. This election leaves our political landscape more splintered than ever and if the next Tweede Kamer elections have similar results it will be exceedingly difficult to form a government.

So who are all these parties we Dutch apparently deem necessary to represent ourselves? Let’s list them, ranked by how many of the 75 seats in the Eerste Kamer they won last Wednesday. All of these have at least two seats in the current Tweede Kamer. Some of them will surprise you!

 

FvD (13)Forum for Democracy”; Far right-wing as discussed above.

VVD (12) “Folk party for Freedom and Democracy” Mainstream right-wing classical liberals, meaning they are for deregulation, low taxes and less welfare programs for the sick, elderly and unemployed and also for personal freedoms like abortion, gay rights and stuff like that. Biggest party in the Tweede Kamer and therefore the leaders of the current government, with Mark Rutte as prime minister for his second term.

CDA (9) “Christian Democratic Appeal” Mainstream right-wing Christians. Also part of the current government. Comparable to VVD on economics, but socially a lot more conservative. They used to be the biggest and most stable party, but have declined a lot. Their base includes a lot of farmers, so their environmental standpoints are not great.

GroenLinks (9) “GreenLeft” The name is pretty self explanatory. I voted for them in this election.

PvdA (7) “Party for the Labourer” Mainstream left-wing with roots in labour unions, that they mostly abandoned. Used to be the only real rival of the CDA for being the biggest party but have declined even more.

D66 (6) “Democrats 66” Centrist party founded in 1966 to really shake things up. Used to be hugely in favor of referenda and other forms of direct democracy until they recently learned what that means in practice (see Brexit, but also the few referenda we had in The Netherlands). I voted for them in the Tweede Kamer elections in 2017, for foolish strategic reasons. Pretty good on green issues and part of the current government.

PVV (5) “Party For Freedom” Almost a single issue Islamophobic party. Anti-immigration, anti-EU and anti-establishment. Their leader Geert Wilders might be known abroad for his Islamophobic movies and appearances at alt-right meetups. Even though he originally split from the VVD, his economic policies have shifted to pretty left-wing. This combined with his abrasive personality means he can cooperate politically with no-one. A lot of his voters left for the FvD this election.

SP (4) “Socialist Party” Very left-wing, old-school socialists. Their current leader is the daughter of their former leader. So socialism with a touch of hereditary rule.

Christen Unie (4) “Christian Union” If we didn’t think really different on issues like abortion and if I didn’t have principal objections against voting for religious parties, I could almost see myself voting for them. Their positions on economics and the environment are pretty progressive and they are reasonable people. They are the fourth and smallest party in the current government.

Partij voor de Dieren (3) “Party for the Animals” The name says it all: they are a single-issue party in favour of animals. Against industrial farming and the culling of herd animals in nature reserves. The joke that they are party animals is never made. It doesn’t work in Dutch.

50 plus (2) Single-issue party for elderly people. Want to raise pensions and lower the retirement age, with plans full of bad math. Their leader used to be big in the gay rights movement. This is literally never brought up as a negative and I salute our elderly people for that. What is brought up are the dodgy schemes for tax-evasion and personal enrichment he employed during his time as the head of gay rights organizations. Also the fact that he is prone to congratulate dead people with their birthday on twitter.

SGP (1) “Political Reformed Party” Extremely Christian party. Is still debating whether women are allowed in leadership positions. Their website shuts down on Sundays. You get the point.

DENK (0) Their name is both Dutch for THINK and Turkish for EQUAL. Their leaders originally were part of the PvdA, but split off to focus more on the rights of immigrants and people of color (that’s good), mostly focused on Turkish people. Very pro-Erdogan (that’s bad), often get into verbal fights with the PVV (that’s good) and are prone to some shady campaigning tactics (that’s bad).

 

* Yes, this tiny country, about the size of Maryland is divided into 12 provinces. We also got to vote for the Waterschappen, the authority that controls our dikes, locks and water levels. On the one hand I think it’s insane this is an elected position. On the other hand this is the oldest democratic institution in the world, dating back to the twelfth or thirteenth century, so that’s pretty cool.

** We also have a king, but he has next to no political power.

 

Hey, Cajun Clearwater back here. Massive thanks to Lapalazala for this week’s header! My usual quick note before we get to the comments: Please do not threaten Mayor McSquirrel, or any other person, or any other squirrel. Let’s get to it!