Everything you need to know about the 2017 Dutch elections
2017 is going to be a very important year for Europe. With the rise of right-wing populism and the looming popularity of each country to have their own Brexit the elections this year might hold defining elections in a long time.
And one of these will be the federal elections in The Netherlands where we'll be choosing our next Prime Minister.
And what's a better way to introduce the Dutch elections other than a Dutch person? If you've read about the Dutch elections it's likely that you've only really heard about Geert Wilders, someone that we'll get to later.
However there's much more to these elections and that's why I wanted to give people an introduction to all the main candidates and their parties that will be running this year.
But first to really understand how these elections work out we have to discuss the political system The Netherlands runs on. Our country runs under a parliamentary system with a prime minister rather than a president, which, if you live in a country that has this system you're probably familiar with. For my friends in the US I'll try to give an explanation.
The Dutch parliament consists of two chambers. The First Chamber (Senate) and Second Chamber (House). We'll be focusing on the latter since the Second Chamber is key to this election.
Our elections run of a proportional multi-party system where a party is represented by a party leader and a list of party members who depending on how many seats the party gets will become representatives. In order for a party leader to become prime minister their party needs to get the most seats of the 150 seats in the Second Chamber. These seats are proportionally distributed by the amount of votes a party has.
However there's more to it. You see for a prime minister to be able to pass his legislation he would need more than half of the seats in the second chamber. However due to so many parties running in our country it's virtually impossible for any party to get over 75 seats meaning parties have to enter in alliances called coalitions to support each other.
Since our elections are based on proportionality and seats becoming prime minister isn't just the single goal of a party. A smaller party can just focus on getting seats and thus representation. For example the Party for Animals isn't going to become the biggest party any time soon but that's not their goal, their goal is enough seats to pass their ideas or to become part of a coalition.
So now that you understand how our elections work, here are the most important candidates you need to know.
Mark Rutte - People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD)
Mark Rutte is the current Prime Minister and the leader of the centre-right VVD. The VVD promotes market liberalism which contrary to the US definition of liberalism refers to a more free market fiscally conservative ideology. They're also moderately conservative on issues like immigration and security but less so on LGBT rights and abortion.
Mark Rutte, who's government in a reluctant coalition with the Labour Party has promoted in US terms a socially liberal, mildly fiscally conservative platform with a Pro-EU agenda. The party is currently a distant second, polling about 25-28 seats which is a big drop from the 41 seats they got in 2012.
Despite this Mark Rutte is seen as the only viable contender to prevent Geert wilders from becoming Prime Minister. In terms of economic issues Rutte has a strong advantage thanks to his cabinet lowering unemployment and reducing the deficit. However on social issues such as the EU, the refugee crisis and elderly care he has been very unpopular. He also poorly handled a trade association with Ukraine which a strong majority votes against during a referendum.
Mark Rutte has been trying to toughen his act on cultural issues in order to keep his more right-wing voters from going to Wilders while at the same time having to get the anti-Wilders voters needed to take him on. He hasn't been very succesfull at it but if the polls continue this way it'll be him or Wilders.
Geert Wilders - Party for Freedom (PVV)
Of all the political figures in The Netherlands none have become as iconic, polarizing and controversial as Geert Wilders. Wilders leads the PVV which is a firebrand euroskeptic populist party that takes a strong stand against mass immigration, EU and Islam. The party believes strongly in assimilation and making Judeo-christian and humanist cultures the dominant cultures in The Netherlands.
The best way to describe Wilders is Trumpism before Trumpism became mainstream. Some of the stuff in his platform includes banning all mosques, taxing muslim head wear and a referendum on The Netherlands leaving the EU. I could make a whole article on him but for now i'll focus on the election.
After a rather disappointing 2012 election where the party lost 9 seats Wilders is now stronger than ever. With Brexit, refugee crisis and a court battle over free speech boosting the party to 31-36 seats in the polls. A huge rise from the 15 they gained in 2012 and distantly above any of his rivals.
There are still challenges Wilders will need to face. His party has a tendency to drop in polls as the election draws near and even if he won he would need to moderate his stances to have a chance at making any coalitions. Still never has he been closer to victory.
Jesse Klaver - GreenLeft (GL)
Jesse Klaver is the new face of the obligatory Green Party. Thanks to this guy GreenLeft has risen from your typical fringe Green Party to becoming the biggest Dutch party on the left.
He's young, has a Morrocan background and a Justin Trudeau style flare. Klaver is pretty much the antithesis of Geert Wilders. The party has since it's more socialist days adopted more market liberal agenda but they still continue a very left-wing social program made up of multiculturalism, ecology and a welfare state.
GreenLeft has strongly taken advantage of Klaver's popularity and the crumbling of other left-wing parties putting them from a meager 4 seats in 2012 to polling a whopping 15-18 seats placing them in a tied 3rd with the CDA which we'll get later to. Now Jesse Klaver is seen as the main left-wing alternative in an election dominated by the right.
Lodewijk Asscher - Labour Party (PvDA)
Lodewijk Asscher is the Minister of Intergration, deputy Prime Minister and the new leader of the centre-left social democratic Labour Party. A party that was once the second biggest party, but now utterly collapsed.
After a strong run in 2012, the former party leader Diederik Samson became very unpopular after deciding to enter the infamous coalition with the VVD. Many of the party's base have felt alienated because they supported VVD's austerity programs. Because of this which stood at 38 seats in 2012 have now collapsed to 11-16 seats, polling only above two christian parties, an elderly party and an animal rights party.
So what does a party do when it collapses? Ditch the leader and elect a new one. Lodewijk Asscher is the new face of the Labour Party. Asscher's agenda so far is to regain the left's trust by distancing itself from the VVD and transforming the party from a Tony Blair style Third Way party to a more Democratic Socialist one. Already promising to increase taxes on the rich and more spending in healthcare.
Asscher will have to face many other parties on the left as well as a more left-wing economic platform of the PVV. But he has the advantage of being a deputy PM and his minister of intergration status gives him strong knowledge on immigration issues which will be a key issue. However his deputy prime minister status in Rutte's coalition kinda gives people doubt on whether he's trustworthy enough to unite the left.
Sybrand Buma - Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA)
Sybrand Buma is the leader of the CDA, a centre-right christian democratic party similar to Angela Merkel's CDU. Of all the christian democratic parties this one has been the most moderate and secular.
Once the CDA used to be the largest dominating party in The Netherlands and usually portrayed itself as the go-to centrist party that could compromise with both the Labour Party and VVD. However the CDA's main gimmick of being a centrist party is starting to fail as many parties in The Netherlands have since moved towards the centre.
Now the CDA is pretty much seen as a boring party with an even more boring leader. While Rutte tries to come off as a decent alternative to Wilders, Buma tries to come off as a decent alternative to Rutte. That said despite being a shadow of its past the party still has a very stable and loyal base that puts them at a reliable third place in the polls with 15-18 seats. They may not win elections anymore but they're still very much in the race.
Alexander Pechthold - Democrats 66 (D66)
D66, a party that was once a party focused on reforming the Dutch system to a First Past The Post system has become the progressive secular alternative to CDA as the go-to centrist party. The party promotes a mix between the Labour Party's social democracy and the VVD's market liberalism.
The best way I could describe this party is that it's the exact Dutch equivalent of the UK's Liberal Democrats. Pechthold is extremely Pro-EU, want to reduce the voting age to 16, love immigration and trade agreements, and they are proud of their elitism. They absolutely despise populism and don't have any plans to become a "people's party". Pechthold even enjoyed laughing at underfunded Dutch soldiers.
Because of this it's unlikely they will ever become the biggest party, however it seems to give them a stable base that has gotten them to 11-15 seats in the polls so far.
Jan Nagel - 50PLUS
The demographic that the VVD-Labour coalition are most unpopular with is without a doubt the elderly. Enter 50PLUS, a name that would sound like a old people fetish porn site but is actually a political party that focuses primarily on the elderly. Summed up the party a pensioners party.
Jan Nagel, who has tried many different parties and failed, may have finally have found jackpot. Due to the current parliament making cuts in elderly care as well as support for raising the age for retirement benefits this party has risen strongly in the polls from 1 seat in 2012 to a reliable 9-13 seats and might even beat the Labour Party if it continues like this.
Emile Roemer - Socialist Party (SP)
The party was once an extreme far-left Maoist party that split from other Marxist groups. Out of all the Marxist parties they survived but have since then strongly denounced their Maoist past and become a populist Democratic Socialist party along the lines of Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn.
On paper this party should be the biggest left-wing party after the collapse of the Labour Party. The Socialist Party has placed themselves as the left wing alternative for the people who felt alienated by Labour's coalition with VVD. The party also distances itself from other left-wing parties by being euroskeptic and focussing much less on progressive multicultural issues. Which should bring more working class folk.
So why is the party only getting 11-16 seats? Well a lot of the problems seem to be with Roemer himself. People even within his own party and complaining that he's a poor leader and a terrible speaker. Furthermore the PVV who adopted a more left-wing economic agenda to get working class votes has been taking a lot of Labour voters that they would've gotten. Essentially the Socialist Party is a watered down PVV without the anti-Islam message and a weak leader.
Gert-Jan Segers - Christian Union (CU)
The second biggest christian democratic party in The Netherlands. Unlike the centre-right CDA this party is seen as a far more socially conservative alternative. The party is pro-life, anti-euthanasia, and opposes the current Dutch drugs policy. Economically and immigration wise however they're much more left-wing emphasizing environmentalism, more open immigration and more social democratic economic policies.
There isn't really much else to say about the party. The party doesn't exactly made big headlines and really just sticks around a reliable 5 seats thanks to a loyal christian base.
Kees van der Staaij - Reformed Political Party (SGP)
The SGP is a Calvinistic party and the third of the christian democratic parties in the second chamber. If the CDA and even the Christian Union aren't conservative enough then boy is this party for you. This party makes Rick Santorum look like a satanic abortion loving atheist in comparison.
This party is theocratic and proud of it. Alongside the typical social conservative ideas such as pro-life, anti same sex marriage, ect. Their party program states that "Disbelief propaganda, false religions and anti-Christian ideologies to be barred by government from public life" They forbid women to become politicians in their party because they don't support women in leadership roles, until the Dutch government made this illegal. The party is also more anti-Islam and anti-immigration than the Christian Union though the two parties often combine tickets to gain more influence.
The party never really never goes over 2-3 seats nationally. However they're strong locally in some christian heavy districts. So whenever people call the Dutch that tolerant liberal country remind them of this party.
Marriane Thieme - Party for Animals (PvdD)
The Party for Animals is exactly what it sounds like. A single issue party for animal rights and environmentalism. Since they gained seats in 2006 this became the only animal rights party in the world to gain political power.
The party doesn't position itself as left or right and isn't looking to gain political power but more to influence other parties to adopt more pro-animal legislation. Beyond the less controversial animal welfare stances the party supports a ban on halal and kosher, cutting subsidies for agriculture, a meat tax and take an anti-GMO stance. They're also generally critical of the EU.
The party usually hangs around 2 seats. However they've gained some new support as they're now around 3-5 seats in the polls. The party also usually gets Dutch celebrities to become "list pushers" (famous ppl without political ambitions added on the party list to get extra votes but so far down the list that they'll never get a seat)
(Left: Jan Roos of For The Netherlands, Middle: Tanahan Kuzu of THINK, Right: Ancilla van de Leest of the Pirate Party)
As you can see the political landcape of The Netherlands is very crowded thanks to its multi-party system. But those are just the parties that are in parliament. There are some new smaller parties that are taking a shot at getting in. So these are the parties aiming to get that first seat.
- THINK (DENK): DENK is a Turkish Muslim party founded by two Dutch Turkish politicians Tunahan Kuzu and Selçuk Öztürk that where kicked out of the Labour Party over disagreements regarding intergration. The party is met with a lot of controversy including ties with Erdogan, Armenian genocide denial, and a party member who claims Israel made ISIS. They gained prominence as a new party and has polled at 3 seats after getting reporter Sylvana Simmons as leader however she left to make her own party due to conflicts and accusing the party of not caring about women's and LGBT rights. Since she was the main source of DENK's media attention it's likely their chance to get into the chamber has been hurt.
- For The Netherlands (VNL): A classical liberal party founded by politicians Louis Bontes and Joram van Klaven who split from the PVV over Wilders infamous remarks about wanting less Morrocans in The Netherlans. The party promotes free markets, a flat tax, euroskepticism and a more strict immigration policy. The party leader is Jan Roos who is the former spokesman of GeenPeil, a campaign supporting a referendum on the Ukraine trade agreement. The party hopes to win voters who find the VVD too weak and the PVV too extreme. The party is polling at 1-2 seats but they could risk getting burried in obscurity due to the PVV and VVD being too big to really snatch voters from.
- GeenPeil: The group that was made to campaign for the Ukraine Referendum now has become a party itself. The party led by Jan Dijkgraaf is very unique in that it has no political platform, at all. Instead they are so committed to direct democracy and referendums that on every political issue they will let party members have a vote on the matter and representatives of this party would vote depending on what the members want. Whether such a system would work or not remains to be seen as the party still polls at 0 seats.
- Pirate Party (PP): Every country seems to have a Pirate Party and The Netherlands is no exception. The party which promotes more privacy, a basic income and curbing copyright laws only got half the votes needed to get a seat. But this time they're trying again with Ancilla van de Leest, a fetish model, as party leader. They've occasionally polled at 1 seat but the party is plagued with internal conflicts so it might have to wait.
- Forum for Democracy (FvD): Here's another PVV-lite party. Founded and led by legal jurist Thierry Baudet. The party was another creation after the Ukraine Referendum. The party largely promotes a platform made up of policies created by other countries such as the Swiss Direct Democracy model, the Australian immigration model, and the Finnish education model. The party has been polling at 0 seats but a recent poll suggested he could get 1.
Besides those there are dozens of fringe parties that have no shot at getting a seat, but as you can see there's no denying that Dutch politics is really diverse. The election will be held on the 15th of May which means that anything can still happen.