The Dutch National Elections

The most important election in the Netherlands will take place on 15-17 March 2021, where voters will choose the new members of the House of Representatives (Tweede Kamer). The 150 representatives make up the Dutch lower house (much like the US’s House of Representatives or the UK’s House of Commons). The elections also determine who will be the next prime minister.

The Netherlands is a parliamentary representative democracy, which means that the seats are distributed based on the percentage of votes that each party receives. If a party gets 25% of votes, it gets 25% of seats. This means that 0.67% of votes is enough to receive one seat in the House. The leader of the party that gets the most votes will be named the prime minister. Since one party usually does not receive 50% of the votes, the winning party will have to create a coalition government that will make up at least 50% of seats, in order to be able to pass legislation. Once the coalition has been formed – a process that can take several months – the new prime minister will appoint the ministers and secretaries who make up the cabinet.

The main question in every party’s manifesto for this election is how to navigate the uncertainty that is the ongoing corona crisis. Still, each party has its own platform and position on every topic important to the Dutch people. To help guide non-Dutch folks through the national election, here is a guide to the major political parties vying for votes this time around…

VVD (People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy)
The VVD is the current leading party in the Tweede Kamer, with its leader Mark Rutte serving as prime minister. The VVD is a conservative liberal party that stands center-right on the political spectrum. The party is pro-EU and international cooperation and favors eco-friendly policies; it stands for democracy and a social state, though in recent years the party has been in favour of welfare cuts.

For the 2021 election it’s expected that Mark Rutte will lead the VVD to a fourth win. Despite the recent childcare allowance scandal, which led to the resignation of the cabinet in January 2021, the prime minister’s leadership during the corona crisis – with a ‘cool head and a warm heart’ – will no doubt add extra ‘umph’ to the party’s popularity.

CDA (Christian Democratic Appeal)
The CDA is the second-largest party in the current coalition government and the third-largest in the country. Alongside the prime minister, the face of the government’s corona response is the CDA’s Hugo de Jonge, current minister of Healthcare. This will certainly be a plus for the performance of the party and its leader, Wopke Hoekstra, current minister of Finance, in the election.

Like the VVD, the party sits center-right, but has slightly more left-leaning policies; e.g. it proposes more investment in higher education and a more modern social state. The CDA is a strong proponent of the EU and supports an eco-friendly policy, but is not in favour of the Netherlands’ tolerance on soft drug, prostitution, abortion and euthanasia. Despite the name, the party has religious and non-religious members.

The third-largest party in the current coalition, D66 sits left socially and center-right on fiscal policies. In 1966, the party was the first to introduce some of the more liberal policies of the Netherlands, including abortion, euthanasia, same-sex marriage and prostitution. The party is a strong defender of the environment and supports increased investment in renewable energies. D66 is also a strong proponent of staying in the EU and supports further European integration.

D66, with its newly appointed leader, Sigrid Kaag, heads into the 2021 election hoping to do build up from its current 19 seats in the House. The fact that D66 is one of the few larger parties to not have a scandal associated with it may speak for it come election time.

PVV (Party for Freedom)
The second-largest party in the Netherlands and the largest party in the opposition, the PVV is the main right-wing party of the Netherlands. Led by Geert Wilders, the PVV opposes immigration and supports controversial policies like administrative detention without due process, shutting down mosques and banning the Quran; it proposes a strong assimilationist policy for existing and new immigrants. It is also EU-skeptical and calls for the Netherlands to exit the EU. Surprisingly, the PVV was once aligned with the VVD and formed part of the cabinet during Mark Rutte’s first run as prime minister. However, the government and cabinet fell apart just 18 months after its formation, with the two parties disagreeing on austerity measures following the fall-out from the Europe debt crisis at the time.

Though it relies solely on donations for its operations, as opposed to membership-based parties, the PVV is a popular party in the Netherlands. Still, many prefer more radical right-wing parties like the Forum for Democracy (below), which seems the most significant threat for the PVV in the next elections.

PvdA (Labour Party)
The Labour Party in the Netherlands is part of the opposition, but has gained popularity in the latest provincial elections, which could make it a major player in the national election. The party is traditionally left-thinking, favouring a strong social state and greater investments in public health, education and the environment. It is traditionally supported by the working class, civil servants and minorities. It also supports remaining in the EU.

The PvdA was at the forefront of the recent childcare allowance scandal, with its then-leader Lodewijk Asscher stepping down for his involvement in the scandal. Only after 17 March will we know the impact the scandal had and if the country holds the party responsible, as well as its former leader. Asscher has since been replaced by Lilianne Ploumen, who the party hopes will bring a new face and renewed popularity to the party.

GroenLinks (Green Left)
As its name suggests, GroenLinks is the left-wing environmentalist party in the Netherlands. The party strongly supports protection of the climate and ecosystems and the respectful treatment of animals. The left-wing vision is clear from its support for a stronger social state, fair distribution of wealth and opportunity, and international human rights. The leader, Jesse Klaver, is one of the more visible party leaders, making appearances on most of the Dutch talk shows.

The current mayor of Amsterdam, Femke Halsema, is the first mayor of a European capital city coming from a green party. The current growing climate crisis should help GroenLinks in the upcoming election, though the corona crisis has taken away some of the spotlight on the environment recently.

SP (Socialist Party)
The SP is a left-wing, democratic socialist party that was originally founded as the communist party of the Netherlands in 1971. Despite its radical-left beginning, the party has moved closer to true socialism, but is still in favor of a strong social state based on democratic processes. It supports increased investment in healthcare, public safety and education and opposes the privatization of public services. The SP supports eco-friendly policies and denounces rising rents and poor working conditions.

Despite being one of the largest parties in the 2006 election, the SP has never been a part of a coalition; the current leader Lilian Marijnissen hopes to change that in this upcoming election.

FvD (Forum for Democracy)
Though one of the smallest parties in the current House, the FVD is one of the most out-spoken. It’s the radical right-wing party of the Netherlands and stands even further right than the PVV. It is staunchly Euro-skeptics and nationalistic, aiming to protect Dutch culture from immigration and globalization. At the same time, however, the FvD supports more liberal ideas like soft drug legalization and protection for the environment. Though the party has lost support on the national level based on polls, it gained several seats in the 2020 provincial elections, causing political commentators to take notice.

The party has been plagued with scandals, including accusations of racism and anti-Semitism against the party leader, Thierry Baudet, and the publication of racist tweets from some of the party’s youth members. The refusal by Baudet and other party members to denounce these messages has not helped alleviate concerns about the true (racist?) nature of the party. This, of course, has led to even further discussions about this small but notorious party and its possible role in national politics.

50Plus, DENK, CU and others
In addition to the parties above, the Netherlands has another two dozen-plus political parties, though most of them do not have any seats in the House. In fact, this election sets a record for the number of political parties in the Netherlands, with 37 parties participating. The participating parties that already hold seats in the House include: 50Plus (a party dedicated to ensuring the rights, protection and services for the elderly), DENK (a left-wing party focusing on combating racism and liberal immigration policies), ChristenUnie (a center-right party with a Christian foundation, which is a part of the current majority coalition), SGP (a fundamentalist Christian party) and the Party for the Animals, whose focus is on the ethical treatment of animals. Furthermore, a plethora of newly formed parties is hoping to gain one or more of the coveted seats in the House.

Coming off the heels of the US elections last November and Brexit at the end of 2020, the Dutch national election seems to have more at stake than in previous elections. Before the corona crisis, there were whispered rumours that Mark Rutte would not seek another go as party leader and therefore wouldn’t be vying for a fourth term as prime minister. But corona has shut down those rumours: Rutte is still the face of the VVD and – if all predictions and polls are correct – will be the leader of the Netherlands for the next four years.

As the Netherlands, and the world, continue to deal with the ongoing corona crisis and the re-emergence of right-wing parties and ideals, no election seems to have more at stake for the Netherlands than the 2021 national elections. And for all the issues and policy stances of the party, no issue is more pressing than how the ongoing corona crisis will be handled.

Written by Marla Thomson