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10/19/16

The Netherlands: Dutch Discontent Could Derail General Elections - by Marcel Michelson

The Netherlands is holding general elections in March 2017, the result of which will determine the make-up of the next government.

Mark Rutte, the liberal Prime Minister, is expected to lead his party for the third time and some commentators already expect a third Rutte coalition government but this time possibly not with the PVDA Labour party.

Yet the outcome could be drastically different. The Dutch government and Rutte think they have done a good job and the last annual state budget even contained some presents despite the Dutch’ tight hold on the purse strings.

But the noise in the lowlands is not about how cosy the country is, how nice the purchasing power, how decent the unemployment figures.

It is more about fraud scandals at semi-public institutions, pocket-lining local politicians, sporadic clashes with young Dutch descendants of immigrant families, and the new waves of refugees housed in special complexes all over the country.

The old political system in the Netherlands is falling apart.

For many decades, moderate religious parties in the centre held power even though they had to merge over time to keep the majority.

There were coalitions with either the labour party to the left or the liberals to the right, with a sprinkling of other smaller parties to make up the numbers.

But cooperation is not that easy anymore and the Dutch are not as happy as they seem.

In the wake of late populist politician Pim Fortuyn, shot dead in 2002 by an animal rights activist, Geert Wilders has been garnering a lot of protests votes with his anti-immigration and anti-EU stand.

Wilders has called for a Nexit, Dutch exit from the European Union, after Brexit.

He has been joined in this call by a new party; the Forum for Democracy.

Their leader Thierry Baudet wants more referenda, about the euro for instance and immigration, so that the Dutch citizens are more involved in the political process instead of the four-yearly delegation of power to parliament.

Baudet, and other politicians, are angered that the Dutch government has not implemented the result of a consultative referendum over a treaty with Ukraine.

While less than a third of the Dutch voted in the referendum in April this year, 61 per cent rejected the EU association agreement with Ukraine. The government of Mark Rutte, holding the EU presidency at that time, has so far ignored the result and thereby angered many citizens.

Immigration is also a key issue. While the Netherlands has often prided itself on its tolerance and hospitality, behind the curtains in the living room windows there are now harsher discussions.

On the one hand, Dutch youngsters from immigrant descent are held responsible for petty crimes and proselytism, while on the other hand some descendants of immigrants are demanding the Netherlands to abandon parts of its culture and traditions that hark back to the slave trade.

The annual children’s party of Sinterklaas in December, the Dutch variant on Santa Claus, has turned into an opinion battlefield due to the presence of Black Peter, black-faced helpers. For some, these helpers put the black community in a bad light and remind them of the slavery trade, while for others the blackened-faces are no more than disguises so that the children do not recognise the family members or neighbours who assist Sinterklaas, himself unrecognisable behind a large white beard, long hair and a bishop’s mitre and costume.

Another new party, Denk, is calling for a renewed balance in the Netherlands for all groups of Dutch people, irrespective of their family roots. The founders and leaders of Denk were members of the Labour Party with Turkish ancestors.

A leader of an organisation of Dutch people with Moroccan origins will also present himself on the Denk (“Think” in Dutch) list.

Denk would like better recognition of Palestine, less obstacles to private initiatives for education, Chinese, Arab and Turkish as options in basic education and a national racism register to fight racism.

With the children of the multi-cultural society in the Netherlands calling for mutual understanding and respect and the die-hard Dutch wanting to retreat in the polders behind closed borders, there is hardly a trace left of the “consensus” so dear to Dutch political tradition.

The country once known for its outward-looking attitude and knack for international trade and business seems stuck in an endless search for personal happiness in a cosy cocoon, and increasingly disconnected from the outside world.

Read more: Dutch Discontent Could Derail General Elections - EU And Immigration In Focus

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