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The Netherlands Vote – expect the unexpected  

March 13, 2017  -  Amy Verdun, Jean Monnet Chair ad Personam, University of Victoria

As the Dutch voters get ready to vote in the General Elections on Wednesday 15 March in the Netherlands, there is more international attention to these elections than is usually the case. Why is that? In a year with many upcoming national elections in various European countries (France and Germany for instance), and following on the increased interest by voters in the United Kingdom and the United States (US) to cause political turmoil, the eyes are now fixed on the Netherlands.

The reason is that the PVV party led by Geert Wilders – populist right-wing that profiles itself on an anti-immigration platform – is competing with the VVD right-wing liberal party of Prime Minister Mark Rutte are neck and neck in the polls. Either party is due to become the largest party in the Dutch second chamber. However, being voted the largest party in the Netherlands does not mean that it will receive many votes. The Dutch system being extremely proportional generates a political landscape whereby none of the large six parties is forecast to get more than 16% of the vote. Currently the polls have both PVV and VVD at 24 (out of 150) seats with three other parties trailing at 16 seats: Greenleft, the Socialist Party and the Democrats ‘66.

On Monday 13 March the first US style leaders debate took place hosted by 1-vandaag. To date Geert Wilders has not participated in any of the election debates and he also broke with a Dutch custom by not making his election program very clear: it exists on one piece of paper and he has not submitted his program to the online voting advice applications. Most Dutch political parties will typically produce a lengthy document and independent agencies will calculate the impact and feasibility of these programs. Thus, for many there was quite some anticipation to watch this leaders debate.

The 1-vandaag election debate was generally seen as a high-quality debate but each of them concentrated on profiling themselves in line with their own voters and as such most journalists indicated that they felt that Rutte won ‘on points’. This debate took part against the backdrop of a political row involving Turkey. It is as of yet unclear whether this row will have an impact on the elections. To date the polling companies suggest that the polls have not (yet) responded. Tomorrow, 14 March, the last leaders’ debate will take place with sixteen leaders part of it. If there is another aspect of this election that is spectacular it is the fact that the result of these elections promises to generate a very large number of very small parties.

Thursday 16 March, the day after, will be closely watched internationally. Many will want to see whether the Netherlands, that is known for its progressive stance on values, long time open economy, friendly towards the European Union, will find itself with the largest party made up of a politician with blonde dyed hair, who says he wants to get rid of mosques, close the borders, and leave the EU. Even though it is extremely unlikely that this party, even if it emerges as the largest party, will be able to form a coalition, it would still be a shock to the system. 

Picture: The Guardian, March 2nd

The end of the Merkel era? The astonishing revival of the Social Democrats in Germany

February 28, 2017 - by Oliver Schmidtke, Center for Global Studies, University of Victoria

Until recently, Angela Merkel’s grip on power appeared rock solid. As part of the currently ruling grand collation, Germany’s Social Democratic Party (SPD) were not able to form a viable alternative to Merkel’s 12-year reign nor did they show any particular eagerness to establish the government after the upcoming September 2017 elections. Many political commentators already predicted the irreversible end of the SPD as Germany’s ‘People’s Party’. Similarly, the rise of the right-wing, anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany does not pose a veritable challenge to the supremacy of Chancellor Merkel. There are clear indications that the Party has outlived its hype in the wake of the refugee crisis and that projected electoral support levels are back in the single digits. Until the end of 2016, a fourth term in office for Merkel was almost a fail accomplish more than six months before the elections.

Yet, events over the past few weeks indicate how volatile electoral politics has become in Western liberal democracies. In late January, Germany’s Social Democrats nominated Martin Schulz as their candidate for chancellor, reacting to the sobering realization that Sigmar Gabriel, chairman of the SPD and the current Minister for Foreign Affairs, simply proved unappealing to the electorate. What has happened over the past month is truly remarkable considering how we normally think about party preferences and loyalty. A party that seemed to be resigned to losing yet another election, deprived of any inspiration, has come to life from one day to the other. The SPD has seen the massive influx of new members; the ‘Martin Schulz fever’ has spread all across the country. While at the beginning of 2017, the SPD was projected to attract somewhat more than 20% of electoral support, most recent surveys put the party above 30%, if not in the lead over Merkel’s Christian Democrats. And, most notably given Angela Merkel’s long standing popularity, Martin Schulz is now leading Merkel as the public’s preferred candidate for the chancellorship.

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