Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Local Elections (2) by Aukje de Vries

The Day of the Elections

Today it is finally the day of our local elections at the Hague. This year they are exceptionally interesting for two reasons. One reason is that on the national level, the cabinet fell two weeks ago and in June there are going to be national elections. The local elections, in which local chapters of most national parties participate, are considered as a predictor of the outcomes nationally. Especially during the last week we have seen quite a lot of our national politicians in the media. The second reason is that the PVV (Party for Liberty) is taking part in two municipalities, one of them being The Hague, where I live. The PVV is the party led by Mr. Geert Wilders, who once was a member of the conservative party but who broke away and began a new party, the PVV. The major issue of this party is to combat Islam. At present he has 9 seats out of 150 in the National Parliament, but according to recent opinion polls he is good for 24 to 27 seats if elections were held now.

What will happen in The Hague? The two policy measures the PVV candidates in The Hague have proposed is to forbid headscarves (worn by many Muslim women) in all public buildings and in any organizations or agencies that receive a subsidy from the municipal government.

The second proposal is to drastically cut back or stop municipal subsidies to social and cultural organizations such as the Symphony Orchestra of The Hague. In this country we have less commercial sponsoring and more government participation in the financing of social and cultural institutions than in, for instance, the USA. Taking away the subsidies from the orchestra and other cultural institutions would probably mean the end of them and that would be a serious loss to the city.

Mr. Wilders is very good at making sweeping statements and attracting a lot of attention from the media, so we have seen and heard much more of him and about him than is justified. It is believed that one of the reasons why he gets such high scores is that those citizens who feel dissatisfied with the government and the traditional political parties vote for the PVV. The way the national government has operated over the past months has been severely criticized by many citizens and this has worked out well for Mr. Wilders and his party. His ideas and his successes are regretted strongly by the traditional parties and by many other citizens, but how to stop him…?. Again tonight, when the results of the elections will be presented on national TV, one of the issues will be how well the PVV has done in The Hague and Almere, the other city where the PVV participates.

I have invited Esther to come and watch the voting outcome with me. It will be a long wait before the results are known of all 391 municipalities and at times it will be quite boring.

I’ll tell you later about the results!

Two Days After Elections

Indeed, the results are about as bad as expected, although most parties say they have done relatively well. There has been a national poll the same day among a representative sample of the Dutch population and local results are continually compared with the outcomes of the national poll. In the Hague, the PVV has become the second largest party with 8 seats out of 4; in Almere the PVV is now the largest party. Will we never be able to wear a headscarf anymore? By way of protest some Dutch women wore headscarves on the day of elections.

Good for them!

Both the parties, which were in the cabinet that fell two weeks ago, have lost seats. However, the Labour Party has done better than in earlier national polls, so they are optimistic about the June elections, but the Christian Democrats have lost, both in the national poll and locally.

The real tragedy has occurred in the Socialist Party, the SP. This party has had for many years a very talented and charismatic politician as a leader. Two years ago he was succeeded by a woman, Agnes Kant, who is a very alert politician and has had a great impact on the care policies in The Netherlands. In my opinion she really had excellent ideas about how to organize care. But now that she has become the party leader it is obvious she does not have her predecessor’s charisma. In fact in her presentations she seems to overact, to be always angry and even though she may have good arguments, she does not always manage to get them across, because of her presentation. The results of her party are not good locally and in the national poll her party loses more than half of its seats.

The day after the elections Agnes Kant resigns. I have never seen her with such a pale face and such a timid presentation. She says she has made this decision in the interest of her party. It is her own initiative. Nobody has asked her to go. From the other party members we hear they all like and support Agnes and regret her resignation. I have seldom seen so many warm feelings being expressed about a political leader. But Agnes has decided to go. Her predecessor cannot keep back his tears while talking about her. Agnes has not deserved this, because she has worked day and night for her party.

It is called leadership that she has recognized her shortcomings. This cannot be said of some of our other national leaders. I will miss Agnes.

In the municipalities the negotiations about the local government have started. The PVV leader for the Hague has literally promised to drive the political establishment crazy. We will have rough times in The Hague.

Questions: Do you face similar issues in your country? A party that focuses on a minority issue or group to win votes? A politician’s personality that overcomes the valuable contribution she or he has made? A candidate who has a difficult time debating in a public forum?

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