In March, Dutch citizens will vote in the provincial elections, and for the first time those living abroad will have their say.
The vote will elect the members of the 12 provincial councils who then decide on the senate members, having a great bearing on policy making for the next four years.
While these elections’ represent an enormous stake for the country, they garner less attention than municipal and parliamentary elections with a declining voter turnout over recent years.
Nitrogen policy, the transition to clean sustainable energy, housing shortage, and price of living are among the chief concerns for voters this year.
Dutch Voters from Abroad
This year, Dutch citizens will be able to vote from abroad for the very first time – a change which could impact the elections results.
“The Netherlands is an open and internationally-oriented country so having the opportunity to be represented in both chambers whilst working across the globe is of great importance to many Dutch people” says Niek Veen, a member of the GroenLinks and former candidate at the 2022 municipal elections in the Hague. “This is definitely something we, as GroenLinks, support” Veen adds.
Though the exact number of Dutch expats eligible to vote is currently unknown, data from the 2017 parliamentary election showed their numbers to be around 58,000, the majority voting for left-leaning parties such as GroenLinks and D66.
On the surface, this appears to be beneficial to left-wing parties, though it is not entirely clear what effect the expat vote will have on the final result.
GroenLinks politicians remain hopeful however. “I hope that this makes the difference, since we will also get input from the Caribbean part of the Netherlands,” states Bas de Boer, leader of the provincial GroenLinks campaign in Groningen.
Generally, interest in provincial elections is not strong. “I don’t know if they will even vote here,” says Maarten Allers, professor of Economics and sub-national politics at the University of Groningen. “Even for Dutch nationals provincial politics are opaque and seem unimportant,” he adds.
As a result, votes from abroad may not bring drastic changes, due to their limited number, and general lack of interest in the provincial elections.
That disinterest comes because citizens that do not see the impact of such elections on their lives are unlikely to vote. “Municipalities provide a lot of services that you need in everyday life but provinces don’t provide services directly to citizens; they are more in the background,” comments Allers.
Only slightly over 50% of eligible voters actually turned up at the polls, down from 54% in 2018, RTL Nieuws reported last year.
Also, the dwindling trust in politics is to blame for poor turnouts with only half of the country reporting confidence in the executive and legislative branches, according to recent data by the Netherlands Institute for Social Research,.
“People seem to be losing their faith in politics … people feel like they cannot have influence on things and things can not be different” says de Boer.
Though politically, much is resting on the results of this year’s elections. Something that political parties have not ignored with campaign spending up by a quarter compared to this time in the 2019 election.
New parties & coalitions
First time runners, BoerBurgerBeweging (BBB), in particular, standout with a relatively full campaign fund out that regard, according to RTL news.
The BBB and the JA21 (Juiste Antwoord 21), both new parties, are expected to do well their first time out according to opinion polls, reported in Dutch News. The same polls suggest that three of the four coalition parties – D66 (Democrats 66), VVD (People’s party for freedom and democracy), CDA (Christian Democratic Appeal), and CU (Chritien Union) – currently in power are set to underperform.
JA21 sprang from the right-wing FVD (Freedom for Democracy) – the party that dominated the elections across the country in 2019 – following an internal dispute over the party leadership’s response to allegations of racism, antisemitism and homophobia against its youth wing.
“It is harder for right-wing parties to agree on the conservation of fundamental values, and their interpretation,” explains Tom Pieke, a member of the FVD and former candidate at the 2022 municipal elections in the Hague.
Impact for the future
If these predictions come true, it will make it difficult for Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s government to pass laws, especially when implementing its nitrogen policy which is strongly opposed by the BBB.
The government is under fire from the other side for the political aisle as well with GroenLinks and PvdA running under one list to try and break the streak of right wing governance in the country.
“It will give people the belief back that a leftist Netherlands is possible” says de Boer, “By working together with the Labour party for a coalition, in the Senate mostly, we can show that the left matters again,” he adds.
The campaign began last week when Rutte warned voters about the tax raising “left-wing cloud” gathering on the political horizon in a Volkskrant opinion piece last week.
“Mark Rutte and the VVD always try to picture an idea of the left that is a danger. We have many parties and they try to narrow that down until it’s them against the left and then they can amplify the differences,” Allers says.
This is also a tactic to whip up motivation in citizens to get out and vote. “Differences between government parties are not very obvious so they need to do something to amplify that to convince voters,” Allers claims. And now, expats are also part of this process.