The Campaign So Far (2 March 2021)

Since it has been known for some time that the next general election in the Netherlands would be held on 17 March, you could argue that the campaign has been under way for a while, even if a number of politicians (especially ministers) have been pretending otherwise, claiming that their main focus is on combating the COVID-19 coronavirus. The parliamentary term technically ended on 12 February, but the Tweede Kamer has been recalled since to deal with a few outstanding matters here and there, as well as passing a new law which allowed the government to impose a curfew on the country. An earlier attempt at using emergency powers to achieve this was initially struck down by the courts after a legal challenge by an anti-lockdown group. The ruling was overturned on appeal, but the government rammed through legislation through parliament just in case.
It seems like ages ago that the Rutte III cabinet was handing in its resignation over the report into the childcare benefits scandal. Successive cabinets implemented policy which unfairly and falsely targeted thousands of low-income families (many from a migrant background), accusing them of claiming childcare benefits to which they had no right. It took several years of legal action by a number of these families for the injustices to be exposed and compensation to be awarded.

Despite the magnitude of this scandal, which destroyed relationships and lives as these families fought off debt collectors, there has been little movement in the polls: the scandal has had no significant detrimental impact on any of the governing parties. The most recent update to poll aggregator Peilingwijzer shows the VVD projected to win around 40 seats, or 25% of the vote. The PVV and CDA are currently fighting it out for a distance second place, on around 20 seats each. This shows a small gain in momentum for the CDA since Wopke Hoekstra took over the leadership: the CDA was clearly trailing the PVV in months past. Next up is a group of left or left-learning parties: D66, GroenLinks, SP and the PvdA. Together they might manage 50 seats, which is why no one is doing much more than shrug at GroenLinks leader Jesse Klaver’s call for greater cooperation on the left. Unless there is a massive shift in the polls, one or two of these parties will probably have to work with the VVD and CDA, who seem almost certain to form the core of the next governing coalition.

With COVID-19 nowhere near under control yet in the Netherlands and the vaccine rollout progressing at a slower pace compared to neighbouring countries, campaigns have been mostly online, although some parties have tried to move about on the streets where possible. Perhaps the most prominent of these is Thierry Baudet of Forum voor Democratie, long since submerged in conspiracy theories about the coronavirus. He has held rallies in towns across the country, urging the removal of the curfew and reversal of various restrictions. It seems to be a last ditch attempt at some form of relevancy, as polls have FvD down at around three seats (their current number after a former VVD MP joined late last year), a far cry from two years ago when the FvD was keeping pace with the VVD. Once the pandemic started, support for the FvD started to plummet and it seems almost impossible for this to be reversed, especially in the light of ongoing allegations of Baudet’s
racist and homophobic tendencies.

A few debates have already taken place, most notably the NPO Radio 1 debate, with 13 lead candidates rotating in small groups, and the RTL TV debate, with the leaders of the six largest parties based upon the 2017 results. At this point everyone knows what they need to do to appeal to their supporters, so the all-important “game changer” moment hasn’t made an appearance and doesn’t seem likely to do so the way things are going.

That’s the basics for now. Starting tomorrow, I’ll be back here on a daily basis with a shorter post recapping the most recent events.