On the day before the election, Dutch television seemed to be overfilled with political content. Candidates and party leaders in the studios arguing with each other, while their ads appeared between programs.
The country’s Prime Minister and the leader of the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) Mark Rutte was in the studio of “Good Morning Netherlands,” while VVD supporters spoke to voters in the streets. Steven – a member of the party’s board in The Hague described the key issues that the VVD promised to improve in the capital:
"It’s mobility, better parking spaces for the cars, better public transport" – he said. When asked about assimilation and identity issues, which are often being perceived by VVD’s opponents as threats to Dutch culture, Steven said that although VVD prioritizes the needs of Dutch citizens, generally it doesn’t see immigration and the inflow of refugees as problems.
While VVD’s positions in many municipalities remained strong, other large national parties are apparently continuing to lose popularity. The Labor Party (PvdA) lost even more votes in 2018 than during the previous election.
Newcomers, such as “Forum for Democracy” (FvD), made a giant leap forward. Formed by a 35-year-old politician, author, historian and lawyer Thierry Baudet, the national-conservative party, which already has two seats in the country’s parliament, decided to go local. The group of FvD Amsterdam candidates consisted of doctors, professional athletes, librarians and journalists with no previous political experience.
The small auditorium in Amsterdam, where Baudet met with his supporters was jam-packed. A guy in the first row wore a red “Make reality great again” baseball hat. He filmed the meeting with a smartphone and apparently constantly checks his Facebook feed. The reference to Donald Trump is not coincidental here: just like his supporters, Baudet loves social media. Actually, first thing he does when he enters the stage is to make a panoramic shot of the room and tweet it, while the whole event is live-streamed on Facebook. Part of the Q&A that follows consists of questions from the online audience.
@thierrybaudet's FvD is one of the newcomers at municipal election, successfully storming Dutch political scene. The party, which didn't exist in 2014, but is good w/voter engagement, especially via FB/Twitter, won 3 seats in the Amsterdam city council. pic.twitter.com/9dlBmaMa6m— Denis Bolotsky (@BolotskySputnik) 23 марта 2018 г.
Unlike the VVD, the Forum for Democracy is quite critical of the EU and the national identity problems, which have become noticeable in the Netherlands in recent years as a result of mass immigration and the inflow of refugees. FvD is known for its Eurosceptic attitude and its stance against the EU-Ukraine association agreement. On the local level in Amsterdam the party promised to double tourism taxes and to oppose the proposal of social democrats, who wanted to ban vacation property rental service Airbnb, which has become an important source of income for many locals.
Other parties with similar beliefs, such as the nationalist Party of Freedom (PVV) led by Geert Wilders, were not so lucky. The PVV’s candidates ran in 30 municipalities, as opposed to just two during previous elections. And even though the PVV won seats in many of them, the results were probably quite far from what party leaders might have expected. In Rotterdam the PVV lost one of the two seats it had since 2014, which, some observers say, was a result of competition between Geert Wilders’ party and the regional conservative “Livable Rotterdam” (Leefbaar Rotterdam), which won first place with 11 seats.
The final outcome shows that local parties in the Netherlands received over 32% of the vote, which is 5% more, than during the 2014 municipal elections. Possible reasons for that could be either the general discontent of voters with how things look in their cities, with small businesses closing down and with politicians trying to ban popular sharing economy services, or, perhaps other issues, such as national identity, which it seems, are being openly tackled only by populist and conservative local parties.
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