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How does the Dutch election system work and what was important about the 2021 election?

Over the past couple of weeks Dutch news has been dominated with the election – will the far right Geert Wilders gain more seats? Will Rutte win again? (spoilers he did), should students vote Volt or Groenlinks?

It’s all rather confusing, and far away from the two party voting system I’m used to in the UK. So let’s break it down and explain how the election system works and the results of the 2021 election.

Dutch government in a nutshell

There are four layers of government in the Netherlands:

  • Local councils

  • Provincial councils

  • The lower house of parliament

  • The upper house of parliament (also known as the senate)

This year’s election was to select the 150 Members of Parliament for the lower house of parliament. This is done every 4 years, out of step by two years with the upper house.

The Netherlands uses a proportional representation system

On the surface the Dutch proportional representation system is quite simple – If a party wins 25% of the vote, they will win 25 seats. Seats therefore are not assigned to a specific region or particular part of the electorate.

Several weeks before the election political parties have to produce a list of candidate MPs. The party leader usually heads the list. To vote you first pick the party of your choice and then fill in the circle next to your chosen MP with a red pencil - a moment of silence for the rejected blue and black pens.

MPs are then chosen according to their place on the list. Many parties appear on the ballot paper, but only those beating the electoral quota will become an MP. This quota is calculated by dividing the overall number of votes cast by 150.

Once the votes have been counted and the winners announced, the newly elected 150 MPs hold a debate on the results and select a senior statesmen (infomateur) who looks into possible government coalitions in the days after the general elections.

Is your head hurting yet? - After the Infomateur has been identified, the infomateur appoints a fomateur – this is usually the leader of the biggest party. Together over the course of a few months they will create a coalition government and a document (regeerakkoord) outlining the government plans.

If you’re now more confused I’d recommend TLDR’s video for a visual explanation.

Few, that was a lot of information – so what does the 2021 election result mean for the Netherlands?

Rutte’s victory marks his eleventh year as Prime Minister, meaning that a whole generation of Dutchies will have grown up only knowing Mark Rutte as fomateur. Despite the child welfare scandal and the corona crisis, many Dutchies still believe the cycling to work, Saab driving PM is doing a good job of running the country.

The result was bad news for the left

The 3 top left parties: PvdA, SP, and GreenLeft had disappointing results - only collectively gaining 25 seats.

There was a big win for the D66 party

Sigrid Kaag’s progressive liberal party won an astonishing 24 seats, causing her to jump for joy when the exit poll was announced.

This year saw a record number of parties entering parliament

My rather sad looking British ballot paper is no match for the Dutch ballot - Proportional representation brings with it an array of parties to fit any opinion. If Jesus is your vice there is a Jesus is alive party ‘Jesus leeft,’ or if you want a ‘free information society’, you can select the pirates party ‘piratenpartij.’

Even so, this year there were a record number of parties, including the pro-European Volt, and the conspiracy ridden right wing group JA21. Overall, a whopping 17 parties will be present at the Dutch parliament.

So, what will change in the future?

There will be a new coalition, most likely between VVD, D66, CDA, and one other party. None of these parties are extreme right or left leaning. It is therefore probable that policy direction will remain moderate.

If I’ve confused or interested you in the thrilling world of Dutch politics, I’d recommend checking out the expat friendly or the Dutch Review.

This blog post was written by Overseasy intern Lizzy Patterson


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