Campaign Update (10 March)

It must be about that time of year again: ailing seniors party 50Plus has fallen into yet another bout of infighting (the last one was May 2020); this time at the worst possible moment: one week before polling day. Liane de Haan, the lead candidate, and number three on the list, Ellen Verkoelen, have been fighting a war of words via the media. It started when Verkoelen accused de Haan of not sticking to the party’s policy platform – de Haan accused Verkoelen of the same sin and called for her to step aside. Verkoelen has refused to do this. At one point, both candidates were in separate television talkshows explaining their position. If this keeps up, they run the risk of neither being elected.

Nieuwsuur is a fairly serious news program which airs each evening at 9:30pm on one of the public television channels. It regularly interviews politicians, and in the run-up to the election they’ve been interviewing a lead candidate each night where possible. Earlier this week Jesse Klaver (GroenLinks) and Sigrid Kaag (D66) submitted themselves for scrutiny – both came away somewhat bruised from the experience. Next in line was meant to be Geert Wilders (PVV), but he withdrew late in the game, citing the need to prepare for his one-on-one debate on the program Pauw against Mark Rutte (VVD), which would take place a little later the same evening. While the merits of this excuse could be debated, it seems likely that Wilders was avoiding a situation where he would almost certainly be pinned down over Dion Graus, current PVV MP and number 13 on the party’s candidate list. Graus is under police investigation over allegations that he forced his now ex-wife into having sex with his personal security detail when they were still married. (He claims that his wife consented to these activities.) Documents seen by newspaper NRC Handelsblad also suggest that Graus falsely claimed around 125,000 euros in reimbursements relating to his position as an MP. Wilders has refused to engage much with any of these allegations and shows no sign of standing down Graus – something he could easily do, as he wields total control over his party.

In 2017, Jesse Klaver was the new kid on the block: a young lead candidate in his early 30s who named Barack Obama and Justin Trudeau as inspirational figures, and definitely attempted to emulate the latter with his rolled-up shirt sleeves and upbeat approach to campaigning. In a political scene accustomed to staid middle-aged men, this was a breath of fresh air and the end result was 14 seats, the best result the party had ever achieved. Lightning doesn’t seem to be striking twice, though – current polls have GroenLinks looking like it will lose a couple of seats next week. Klaver has been searching for something to bring back the momentum of 2017, but the coronavirus certainly hasn’t helped, as part of the hype of the last election campaign was generated through large rallies, or “meet-ups” which felt like quasi-religious gatherings at times. Last night in the one-on-one debate on Pauw with the CDA’s Wopke Hoekstra he finally seemed to strike a few blows, backing Hoekstra into a corner over funding for one of his party’s policies – an unexpected position for the caretaker Finance Minister to find himself in. Now we’ll see whether voters were paying attention, and whether they were impressed.