Thursday, February 4, 2010

Local Elections by Aukje de Vries

In a few weeks we will have local elections in the Netherlands. In the local setting we have chapters of most national parties but usually there are also parties that focus on local issues. The chapters of the national parties are often rate on the basis of what their party is doing nationally. Although our municipalities, over the last few decades, have accumulated many more responsibilities, citizens seem to be less interested in local than in national elections.

The organizations of older people in The Hague usually organize a debate with representatives from the major parties around important senior issues.

To be honest, I know little about what is going on in local politics in The Hague.

Major issues revolve around road construction, new buildings, urban renovation and the like. As long as they do not take place in my neighbourhood, I am not very interested. Wellbeing and some parts of long-term care are also among the responsibilities of the city. But I have not yet taken the time to find out what exactly the municipality is doing. It is fairly recent that new responsibilities were decentralized to local government. Maybe the debate will enlighten me about local politics. I still don’t know for which party I will vote.

I get there a bit late and the room is packed! Fortunately there are still a few chairs available.

It is not what I had expected. The representatives of the parties are not asked to present their programmes. Instead, the four seniors’ organizations, which are active in The Hague, begin with a presentation. They have noticed that the programmes of the various political parties pay very little attention to older persons. The group gives an overview of what older people want and expect that the parties will take their ideas into account.

After this overview each subject is dealt with separately. One representative elaborates on one of the aforementioned issues, The politicians are asked to respond. It is a lively debateand the audience can ask questions.

Politicians are careful. They don’t make many promises, but the event makes clear to them that they cannot forget older people. Seniors are an important part of their electorate.

From the discussion it emerges that there are two issues that especially seem important to the people in the hall. In this country there are many legally established procedures by which citizens have the right to be heard about issues that affect them. It turns out that many of those present have experiences with aldermen presenting a plan and telling the people: this is the plan and we are going to carry it out, regardless of what you say. People strongly dislike this behavior. There are practical suggestions as well. For instance, there is one lady with a handicap who is on a panel that is supposed to test road safety for handicapped people. She says that her panel ought to be heard before a reconstruction project is begun and after is is completed. The group politicians is to listen more to the citizens.

Many people spoke up about safety in the neighbourhood where they live. One lady told how she was robbed, the moment she tried to enter her house. Obviously there are many more people who feel unsafe where they live.The second outcome is that politicians should do more to ensure safety in living quarters and on the streets. I am impressed how well the event has been prepared. It has been nice to hear some of our prospective town council members. But I still do not know which party to vote for.

Question: How important is the issue of safety near your home for you? Should this be high on the political agenda or do you think some other local issue is more important?

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