Optimism, Realism or Just Naivety
By Pia Lou Velema | May 26, 2021
Cover Illustratoin: Sign indicating a place to vote in Amsterdam Oost, March 17 2021. Jasper Akkermans / The Amsterdammer
Metro reporter Pia Lou takes to the streets of Amsterdam to explore people’s voting habits in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and considers future elections.
It’s been over two months since the Tweede Kamer election for the Dutch Parliament on March 17. Considering the ongoing global pandemic and the harsh restrictions imposed during the past few months, it’s fair to say that this year’s election took place at an exceptional time in history.
Many local news forecasters predicted the election outcomes to be the dawn of a new era, the breaking point that might steer The Netherlands away from its liberal right-winged course. Four years ago, the country was coloured blue, with an impressive 81.9% voter turnout, electing the VVD (Volkspartij Voor Vrijheid en Democrats) party for the third year in a row with 21.3% of the votes. Our team at The Amsterdammer was curious: would Rutte’s legacy prevail, even in times of change? What are the things people take into consideration when they make this all-important decision? Considering the circumstances, was this election genuinely different from the ones before?
To answer our questions, we took to the streets of Amsterdam and interviewed citizens on the day of the election. To our surprise, almost all voters made one thing clear from the start – they would not let the COVID-19 situation influence their electoral decision. If anything, according to a woman in her mid-30s, we should actually have been looking “around it.” For her, the vote ought to be based on how citizens understood the political situation before the pandemic.
This got me thinking and I couldn’t help but wonder: is this optimism, realism or just naivety? Optimism because of course, with the vaccines just around the corner, who doesn’t want to go back to lekker normaal? We’re all in a flurry of anticipation to grab our bucket hats, Heineken 0% (because after lockdown, my body deserves a break) and a terrasse in the sun. Realism because we’re already getting vaccinated! Sure, we might have stopped for now because of (un)foreseen health complications and a derailed government, but we are still on track. Or is this wishful thinking? Can a country and its government not be affected by one of the most crucial turning points in its political, economic and social realities? Could it be the cognitive dissonance from the way we’ve been acting like there’s no pandemic: would voting as if there is one just feel weird and inconsistent?
Whichever way you flip it, the VVD and our eternal Rutte stayed on top. When the results came in there wasn’t much of a difference at first glance. The largest parties are still the largest, and most importantly we have the same prime minister. Taking a closer look, however, there have actually been some crucial changes within the political arena. First of all, we lost many of our left-wing voices. One might say this makes sense since we are in the midst of a global pandemic – we are being protectionist, not spending our government’s expenditure and focusing on market growth is the most sensible way forward.
Others would say that going right in times of crisis is detrimental. If anything, we should be fuelling our internal markets, protecting those most vulnerable and focusing on social welfare. Ironically, COVID-19 started because of an underregulated market and the dismissal of conscious and environmentally friendly consumption, so wouldn’t this just kickstart another pandemic, if anything?
In another way, maybe this is exactly that naivety I spoke of before. The pandemic is almost over, or the pandemic is just a fluke, so: vote the way you would like it’s “gewoon normaal.” Another notable change following the election is the smaller, more specific-interest based parties taking ground, ranging from nationalistic and populistic to those in the name of racial awareness and the power of the EU – issues which arguably became more significant in this past chaotic year.
I would like to end by addressing the biggest “win” this election: Sigrid Kaag. Successor of Alexander Pechtold for the party Democrats 66, Kaag took home 24 seats, a number the party only reached once before in 1994. A woman almost reaching top is something revolutionary and maybe the hope for the emancipation Dutch discourse so desperately needs. Not only are they green, but they also call for education, for a united Europe and for the return of “humanity.”
To me the results of this election signal a need for constancy in times of fear and uncertainty with an undertone of change and hope. This election is different, more so because it is a product of its time. Most likely, the effect COVID had in 2021 will make a greater impact in the next election in 4 years time. Because everything is always clearer in hindsight.
“This election is different, more so because it is a product of its time.”
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