Campaign Update (3 March)

(Note: Given that I’m writing these updates from a timezone ten hours ahead of the Netherlands, when I put the date in the title it’s actually about midway through the day in question, in case this is ever important to know.)

Sometimes it can be really hard to explain Dutch politics without a lot of background. Things can be so specific that it feels almost absurd unless you take a step back and take in in the wider context, and even then. The CDA is currently in one of these situations. Yesterday, Hugo de Jonge, caretaker Minister for Health and former lead candidate of the party casually declared in a TV interview that he wouldn’t be voting for Wopke Hoekstra, the CDA’s lead candidate for this month’s elections. Instead, he’d be casting his vote for the candidate sitting at number 22 on the CDA’s candidate list: Bert van den Brink, who is one of de Jonge’s staffers. Fundamentally, this doesn’t change much. Lead candidates usually attract the vast majority of the votes for a party, so Hoekstra definitely doesn’t need de Jonge’s vote. However, this is being interpreted by some in the party and the press as a sign of discontent with Hoekstra’s leadership, as de Jonge isn’t on the list himself and therefore would be expected to support the leader.

The historical precedent for this is a traumatic one for the party. In 1994, CDA Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers, retiring from politics after 12 years in the top job, said he wouldn’t be voting for his successor Elco Brinkman in the upcoming election. Instead, he would cast his ballot for the number 3 on the list, Minister for Justice Ernst Hirsch Ballin. Despite Lubbers claiming that “Elco won’t mind”, the election was a disaster for the long-dominant CDA, losing 20 of their 54 seats and ending up on the opposition benches. This marked the first time a governing coalition did not consist of at least one party with christian democratic colours. Lubbers was blamed for not paving the way enough for Brinkman, although there were a number of factors in the CDA’s poor results. Fast forward back to today’s campaign, and there are fears de Jonge’s declaration might have a similar result, although we’d need to wait for the next set of polls to see if it has any impact. A major difference between the two scenarios is that while Lubbers was ending a long career as a popular politician, de Jonge’s leadership was contentious from day one: he won by a much smaller margin than expected, and Hoekstra’s decision not to run for the leadership at that point despite his popularity within the party loomed large over the contest.

Elsewhere, it looks like the populist right parties might be on the march again, with the latest polls giving a boost to both FvD and PVV. It appears that almost half of potential voters haven’t entirely made up their mind, and polls may be underestimating the appeal of Thierry Baudet’s “Freedom Caravan” as he continues to travel around the country.

This election, 10 of the 37 parties who will appear on the ballot are led by women, the highest number yet. It is one of those moments which also shows how far the quest for some kind of gender equity has to go, given that most likely only half of these women will be elected (the leaders of D66, SP, PvdA, PvdD and 50PLUS), with Sigrid Kaag of D66 on track to lead the pack, her party currently 4th in the polls with an estimated range of between 12-16 seats (D66 currently has 19).

Lastly, it might be worth keeping an eye on the microparty Volt, which looks like it could sneak into the Tweede Kamer with a seat or two. It is a pan-European movement which calls for a federal Europe and generally sits left-of-centre. It has one seat in the European parliament (elected from Germany) where it sits with the Greens/EFA bloc. It has also managed to win over 30 seats at the local government level across Bulgaria, Germany and Italy.