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Archive for the ‘Multiculturalism’ Category

Today is a big day in the Netherlands! The Dutch are heading to the polls to elect their House of Representatives (de Tweede Kamer).

The previous government was a coalition between the center-right (the Christian Democratic Appeal or CDA), the center-left (the Labor Party or PvdA) and the smaller Christian-right (the Christian Union) parties, with a CDA Prime Minister, Jan Peter Balkenende. (It is a commonly held belief here that Harry Potter will look like JPB in 30 years). This government fell in February when the Labor party pulled out of the coalition because CDA broke a promise to withdraw Dutch troops from the NATO mission in Afghanistan. As America has been in the business of bolstering European support for a continuing military presence in Afghanistan, the collapse of the Dutch government even made headlines in the USA!


Jan Peter Balkenende, CDA (Source: Rijksvoorlichtingsdienst)

‘OMG, a government fell!?! What does that mean??,” I wondered back in February, as visions of chaos and soldiers marched through my head. Well, it wasn’t so dramatic. Forgive a brief politics lesson, but in a parliamentary system if a government falls before the end of a term, a caretaker government takes over and calls new elections.  In this case, Balkenende carried on as Prime Minister, but without any power to draft new legislation. Apart from a few projects already in the works, very governing has gone on in the Netherlands since February.

With the collapse of the centrist government, it was quite clear that the two center parties would suffer the greatest losses, with voters on the left favoring the smaller center-left party Democrats 66 and the Green Party, and voters on the right turning to the “libertarian-lite” party, the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), and the anti-Immigrant, anti-Islam Party for Freedom (PVV).  Indeed, earlier this spring there was a surge in support for the Party for Freedom and it’s leader Geert Wilders, with some pollsters suggesting that the PVV would come out on top in the general elections.

As this is a personal blog, not a news or political blog, I feel no shame in skipping the even-handedness to state my views plainly: Geert Wilders scares the crap out of me. He is an immensely charismatic leader, able to stir up and mobilize feelings of fear and anger in his followers. For Wilders there is no room for multiculturalism. He firmly believes that immigrants, in general, and Islam, in particular, threaten the Dutch way of life and the “Islamisation” of the country must stop. The PVV platform includes banning the Koran, halting all new Mosque construction and a tax on head scarves (what Wilders crudely refers to as “Head Rag Tax”). Wilders’ discourse and policy agenda are so extremely offensive to me it’s hard to even know where to start. In the interest of avoiding an all out rant, I will only say that, as someone who values multiculturalism and as an immigrant myself, I am deeply opposed to the PVV.

Geert Wilders, PVV (Source: NRC Handelsblad)

Not long after the fall of the national government, the Dutch held local municipal elections in March. The PVV strategically ran candidates in only two municipalities where they did exceptionally well, coming in first in Alkmaar and second in the Hague. If the municipal elections were a practice run for the national elections, things looked pretty good for the PVV. However, in the wake of these electoral successes came some failures. As a largely one-issue party, it wasn’t clear that the PVV would be effective leaders. Further, the other political parties in Alkmaar and the Hague rallied together to block the PVV policy agenda. While only the Labor party has publicly declared that they will not form a coalition with PVV at the national-level, moves against the PVV at the local level do hint at a broader anti-PVV sentiment.

Mark Rutte, VVD (Source: Fotograaf Nick van Ormondt)

In the last few weeks, things have changed again and it seems that now “it’s the economy, stupid!” Issues of Greek debt, the international economic crisis, and high deficits and unemployment at home now top the list of issues of greatest concern to Dutch voters. And it’s likely that the “libertarian-lite” VVD and it’s leader Mark Rutte will benefit from the attention-shift to economic issues.  The VVD’s platform includes plans for cutting government spending, raising the retirement age from 65 to 67, and replacing university student “grants” with student “loans.” While the PVV will likely gain seats, Wilders is no longer expected to pull off an upset. And, as to the parties on the left, Labor’s popular new leader, the former Amsterdam mayor Job Cohen, may have managed to help the party recover from the set back of the government collapse. (Does the PvdA’s unofficial campaign slogan “Yes we Cohen!” seem familiar to anyone?)

Job Cohen, PvdA (source: Wikipedia)

Of course this post barely even scratches the surface of the 2010 elections (verkiezingen), with its hundreds of candidates and 17+ political parties. But hopefully I’ve given you a sense of my enthusiasm and nervousness as I wait to see who will come out on top and, given that it’s unlikely that any one party will have a majority, what the new coalition government will look like. Now that I’m an official resident I feel like I have a stake in things, thus making the elections extremely exciting… but it is also frustrating to watch from the sidelines without the right to vote, especially when issues of immigration and integration are on the table.

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