Dutch elections on March 15th
By Jhr. Alexander W. Beelaerts van Blokland LL.M.
On Wednesday March 15th 2017 the Dutch will elect a new Parliament, for the first time since 2012. In the recent weeks many foreign diplomats, judges and other expats frequently asked me about it.
I noticed a lot of misunderstandings about these elections. I will mention some of them now.
No, the Dutch do not elect both parts of our parliament, but only the 150 members of the House of Representatives (the so called ‘Tweede Kamer’, the Second Chamber).
The Senate (the so called ‘Eerste Kamer’, the First Chamber) will be elected in another year and not directly by the people but via indirect elections: by the members of the so called ‘Provinciale Staten’, the counsillors of the twelve provinces, who themselves are elected directly by the people.
No, the Dutch do not elect a Prime Minister. We vote for a party, most people vote for the number one of a party on the list, but one can vote for another person of that list as well. If that party receives for instance ten times the votes a party needs for one seat, the first ten persons of that list will be elected, but it can happen that a person lower on the list gets so many so called preferential votes that he or she will be elected directly in stead of the –in my example- number ten of the list.
We have many parties. Never in our history one party won the majority of 50 % plus one or more. In the polls the two leading parties both have less than twenty percent of the voters at this moment, three weeks before the elections.
No, the leader of the winning party will not become automatically the Prime Minister. In most cases that leader will try to form a government together with other parties.
Together they seek (but that is not obligatory) at least 76 seats in the new Tweede Kamer and a majority in the Senate as well. Although normally the leader of the winning party will become after some months the new Prime Minister, in recent history it happened that the number two in the elections (1977, Mr van Agt) or even the number four (1971, Mr Biesheuvel) became Prime Minister. The government of this moment has only two parties, but that is an exception. Most people expect a coalition of at least four or five parties later this year.
No, when the elections do bring another party into power, that does not have as a consequence that Dutch ambassadors, prosecutors, judges etcetera will be replaced by others. Judges have been even nominated for life, nevertheless they will have to retire at the age of seventy. In my case: next year.
About the author:
Jhr. Alexander W. Beelaerts van Blokland LL.M. is Justice (Judge) in the (Dutch) Court of Appeal and was appointed Special Advisor International Affairs by the Mayor and Aldermen of The Hague.