An exciting introduction into the Dutch political scene

De Amerikaans-Nederlandse Johanna Bozuwa had veel meer te kiezen dan in de VS. De student mocht niet alleen een partij uitzoeken, maar ook een kandidaat. Dat is wel heel anders dan kiezen tussen twee kwaden tijdens de verkiezingen voor een Amerikaanse president.

Last Wednesday, I walked over to the Amsterdam Zuid station holding my Stempas in hand, and stood in line at one of the hundreds of voting centers at about 7:45 to participate in my first Dutch election. They looked over my passport, checked my name off their list, and then handed me a huge piece of paper folded up like an accordion. I stretched the ballot out— just about as long as my wingspan— laid it down in the booth to run my finger down the long list of members and filled in the bubble next to my candidate’s name with the iconic red pencil. I voted for Linda Voortman from Groenlinks.

I am a dual citizen of the United States and the Netherlands. Although I have participated in multiple elections from the local to presidential in the United States, this was my first time ever exercising my right to vote in the Netherlands.

The entire lead up to the Dutch elections was eye-opening for me. It pulled me out of my polarizing, binary US system that elects one President and into a proportional, multi-party Parliamentary system. All of a sudden I went from having two options— a bigoted Donald Trump or establishment-democrat Hillary Clinton to something seismically different (caveat: the two candidates were not on the same plane. Indeed, I was happy to vote for the first women to run for President as a part of a mainstream party as well as committed to fighting against Trump, but did not feel fully represented by Clinton’s platform). Now in the Netherlands, I was confronted with choice. Not only could I choose from about 28 parties, but within that list I could vote for a specific party member. 

I was forced to think about candidates in a nuanced way that many Americans have not. Was I more inclined towards GroenLinks or Partij voor de Dieren? With the PVV looming, should I put my ideals of anti-racism at the forefront and vote for Artikel1?

I also had the opportunity to think strategically. Should I vote for a woman lower on the list so I could hopefully pull her up into a seat and get more women into Parliament, like the #StemOpEenVrouw initiative campaigned or would I vote for my #KlimaatKandidaat to show that I was a young person who cared about climate? In the end I decided that I wanted a woman from GroenLinks, a party that showed a growing movement to represent my interest.

With the rise of an intolerant right across the globe and the Netherlands the first European election following Trump, the stakes were high. If there was ever a time to start to be active in the Dutch political scene, this was the moment.

That night, I sat in my friends’ living room nervously anticipating the exit polls. After the American elections I would not be content to believe that everything would turn out okay. Even if the PVV had gone down in the polls, I was going to call it good “until the fat lady sang.” I realize that it is different in the Netherlands and, even if the PVV grabbed a huge number of seats, that didn’t mean that they would wield the same type of power as Trump in the United States. But the symbolic effect on the country and around Europe that validated racist, sexist political movements could have a serious domino effect. When NOS released the exit poll numbers, we all exhaled. We were not next. The PVV didn’t get nearly as many seats as expected, and GroenLinks had shot up!

Emails and texts poured in from my American with links to the election results here. They all exclaimed with happiness that Rutte beat out Wilders to PM! Well, not exactly, I thought. Americans have a hard time wrapping their head around the idea of a representative Parliamentary system like this one. I’ll be the first to admit that it took weeks of patient Dutch friends and many articles to understand the system, the parties, and the process. Much like the question of who to vote for here was more nuanced than the US, so are the results.

GroenLinks rocked it and showed that they were a growing force that was rooted in tolerance, taking climate change seriously, and focused on changing the Netherlands for the better. Wilders’ party didn’t dominate in seats. Both are very good outcomes. But, the VVD and the CDA both coopted many of the party lines of the PVV and skewed right. It is important to remember Rutte’s “Doe Normaal” letter and realize that we haven’t overcome xenophobia by limiting Wilders’ seats. Indeed, he has permeated Dutch mainstream culture and right-wing parties while still being able to cultivate himself as “anti-establishment."

Furthermore, the next few weeks (or months) I expect will prove to be tense as the government tries to form. This election showed how fragmented the Dutch country is, with no way to make a coalition with over 76 seats with even three parties (considering the fact that nobody will make a government with the PVV). 

Overall— I can say that this was an exciting introduction into the Dutch political scene. I will also say that I am not assuaged wholly by the outcome. Instead, we must continue to stay vigilant and fight for a tolerant, brighter future.