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3/14/17

The Netherlands: What the Dutch elections are all about … and what they’re not about - by Cas Mudde

Mark Rutte benefiting  from his brawl with Erdogan?
The Dutch parliamentary elections are tomorrow and, like most Dutch political scientists, I cannot wait for them to be over. Never before have Dutch elections been so intensely followed by the international media and I am, honestly, tired of having to answer another question about “the Dutch Trump” (Geert Wilders) or “the Dutch Trudeau” (Jesse Klaver). Obviously, the international media are not really interested in Dutch politics. Rather, they have declared the Netherlands to be the bellwether of European politics. Never mind that the country has a fairly specific political culture, and party politics has changed from ultra-stable in the 20th century to ultra-volatile in the 21st century, the Netherlands is Europe’s future.

Given that the Dutch elections are covered in the same frame as the British EU referendum and the US presidential elections, and are the first of a series of similar elections in Europe, much of what is truly at stake is missed. Moreover, much of what is focused on is secondary at best and irrelevant at worst. So, what is (not) at stake tomorrow?

1 These are not “winner takes all” elections

2 The Dutch are not voting on the European Union

3 The Dutch are not electing a president

International media style the Dutch elections as a “neck-and-neck race” between conservative prime minister Mark Rutte of the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) and radical-right challenger Wilders, to fit the broader frame of status quo versus populism. Understandably, Rutte has tried to push this idea on the Dutch media too, positioning himself as the only democratic hope to stave off a populist victory. But however convenient it is for selling newspapers or for Rutte, this formula is inconsistent with the essence of the elections. The Dutch are electing a parliament, not a president or premier, and it is not guaranteed that the leader of the biggest party will be the premier. In a parliamentary system the government needs the support of the parliamentary majority, not necessarily of the biggest party. Moreover, the struggle between Rutte and Wilders captures only a minority of the voters: together the VVD and PVV are only polling between 30 and 35%. In other words, the real story is somewhere else.

4 The Dutch are uninspired …

The most stunning number regarding the Dutch elections is that, four days before election day, a majority of the population (54%) did not yet know for which party they were going to vote.

5 … (partly) because the parties discuss the wrong issues

Since the beginning of the 21st century Dutch political campaigns have been dominated by the “three Is” – immigration, integration and Islam – and this year is no different.

In fact, voters are being beaten around the head with those issues on the campaign trail, even if few concrete solutions are offered, at the expense of some of the basic bread-and-butter issues that are actually concerning the majority of population: economic inequality, education, healthcare, and protection of the welfare state.

Note EU-Digest: Unfortunately the Turkey-Holland  brawl has not helped the candidates on the left in this Dutch election, who have hammered on more and real pressing problems, like economic inequality, education, healthcare, and protection of the welfare state on a sure footing, to the contrary. 

So basically, if there are no major surprises it unfortunately could turn out to be business as usual in Holland with Mark Rutte benefiting from the weekend crises with Turkey?

Read more: What the Dutch elections are all about … and what they’re not about | Cas Mudde | Opinion | The Guard

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