• Monday, November 29, 2021

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  • DUTCH POLITICAL PROCESS

    After only two years of political power, the last government, which was made up of a shaky coalition
    between the CDA (Christian democrats) and the VVD (People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy) collapsed in April this year. So once again, votes will be cast on the 12th of September and the weird and whacky world of Dutch politics is being thrown into the spotlight. It’s confusing stuff, which is why political observer Marte Hellema has given her time to try and explain the process the Dutch use to build their government upon.

    The Dutch Poldermodel; The Dutch political system is characterized by a consensus and compromise model, known as ‘the Poldermodel’. According to popular belief the term is a reference to the fact that a large part of the country consists of polders – tracts of land that have been reclaimed from the sea. In history, for a community to live safely in a polder, it was a necessity of survival to set-aside differences and to collaborate
    and compromise. It is a consensus-based decision making system, which involves everyone, and that operates on all levels of politics and society.

    All this negotiating and compromising has its good and bad sides. On the one hand it assures that the needs and interests of a large majority of the population are taken into account, while at the same time no one seems to ever truly get their way. Everyone is satisfied, but no one is ecstatic, so to say. Everybody Should Be Able to Participate; One of the first things that make the Dutch election system very complex is the very large number of parties that voters can choose from. Registering as a political party for the elections is quite easy. The main regulations for participation are related to support and funds. A new party needs to collect 30 statements of support from each of the 20 constituencies in which the country is divided. Support statements can only come from people that are allowed to vote in that particular constituency. Still, in practice this comes down to no more than 600 signatures. Next, all parties need to pay of 11,250 €. This amount will
    only be returned if the party manages to gain at least 75 % of the votes required to gain one seat in parliament. With the 2006 elections the quota to gain a seat was almost 66,000 making it around 49,500  votes that a party needed to get their money back.

    For the upcoming elections this means that although initially 50 parties have registered to participate, on the 12th of September Dutch voters will be able to choose from only 21 political parties. In practice, far from all parties manage to convince the voter. In 2010, for example, 19 political parties were on the voting ballot, but only 10 of them managed to get one or several seats in parliament.

    Parties and Candidates; Although you can theoretically run as an independent candidate, in practice the overall majority of candidates are representing political parties. The voting ballot features the candidate lists of each political party. As a voter you can choose whichever candidate is on the list, you do not have to vote for the party’s number one. In that way candidates can also collect preferential votes. So if a party manages to gain, for example, 10 seats in parliament, it does not automatically mean the first 10 candidates will take up these seats.

    A few years back a television programme aimed at stimulating young people to vote, BNN, called upon people
    to still go and vote, even if they had no faith in established politicians. Instead of staying home they asked them to vote for the last person on the candidates list of the party they preferred, in that way giving a sign of protests, without wasting their democratic right.

    Although that is an extreme example, it does happen that people lower on the candidate list make it into parliament based on preferential votes. Proportional Representation System; For people coming
    from countries with a plurality or single-winner voting system – like the USA and the UK – the Dutch system could seem confusing and, to some extent, cumbersome. The Netherlands organises its elections through a proportional representation system. This means that the percentage of votes a political party gets will be equal to the percentage of seats it will get in parliament. Parliament has 150 seats, so if any given party hasabout 10 % of the votes, it will get 15 seats. This results in it being almost impossible for a party to gain majority in parliament. In recent history, the Netherlands has never seen one party gain so many seats in parliament that it could govern by itself. This situation is where the Poldermodel becomes so important.For all due purposes this makes it impossible for one or two parties to dominate the political scene. The positive side of this is that new parties can relatively easily join the political scene, representing new viewpoints or groups if so desired by society. At the same time, because so many different opinions are represented in parliament it can make people feel like their vote is drowned out by the masses.

    After the Votes Are Cast, the Complications Start; The truly difficult part starts after the votes have been counted. In the Netherlands people are no longer legally obliged to vote. At the same time, you do not have to register to vote. When registered as a citizen, you will automatically get a voting ballot sent toyour home a few weeks before the elections. On average around 75-80 % of the population (counting only those people that are allowed to vote) uses its democratic right to vote.

    Once the votes have been cast the quota per seat in parliament will be determined, and this decides how many seats each party has actually won. The number of people that have voted will be divided by the number of available seats. In 2006, for example, there were to 9,838,683 people who voted, which divided by 150 (number of seats in parliament), made the seat quota 65,591. In 2010, 9,416,001 votes were cast, which
    made the seat quota 62.773. In 2009 you needed fewer votes to get a seat than in 2006. In comparison to other countries the quota or number of votes required to gain a seat in parliament is really low, even in comparison to countries with a similar size population.

    Coalition Cabinets; Immediately after the election the cabinet formation process starts. The newly elected parliament members will appoint informateurs (information gatherers) whose task it is to collect information amongst the different parties about who is willing or interested in forming a cabinet with whom. Points of discussion include a coalition agreement and the division of ministerial posts. Previously the monarch,
    currently the Queen, as head of State would make this appointment, but as recently as March 2012 this was changed into being a task of the new parliament. With the results of these rounds of talks, the Queen appoints a formateur – former – whose task it is to start actually forming a cabinet. Normally this person will be the future Prime Minister.

    As recent coalition formation processes have shown, it is very likely that quite a few rounds of information gathering and negotiations will pass before this final step is taken. In the past, coalition formation processes have taken from 8 up to 208 days. More so, given that it is all about forming a coalition, being the biggest or one of the biggest parties is no guarantee to becoming a part of the government. In the last election the
    Partij van de Arbeid – Labour Party – was the second party with only one seat difference from the biggest, but still ended up in opposition. Also, because normally – with the exception of the last cabinet – a coalition will look to have a majority in parliament, even smaller parties can be in a very good negotiating position. Making it possible that opinions of a minority group make it into a coalition agreement.

    The wait for Agreement; The political landscape has been extremely fragmentized and polarized in the last two decades. Not only has this meant that a lot of governments fell before the end of their term, but also that there is no clear cut option for which coalition can be expected , following the results of the
    upcoming elections. Issues such as immigration and economy are, as always, big topics, and the EU budget cut demands always cause a stir, although some serious polder discussion managed to see a result before the last government fell. In Amsterdam, probably unsurprisingly, the issue under greatest focus is that of the “wietpas” – a prospective new demand for customers of coffee-shops, to prove that they are residents. This  law has been designed on a national level, and the new government will go a long way to ensuring its survival or demise, and whether the local Amsterdam government will have a fight on its hands in keeping its coffee-shops tourist friendly.

    Truth be told, politics in the Netherlands is a strange beast,and in the end it is best not to believe anyone who tells you that they know what will happen. It is the process that will decide.

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