Carlo's Think Pieces

Reflections of a Filipino in the Netherlands

Elections, Dutch style, on 22 November

Posted by butalidnl on 18 October 2006

On 22 November, the Netherlands will be holding elections for parliament.  The election campaigns are supposed to be going full blast right now, but for those of us who have experienced elections in other countries,  this does not seem obvious at all.

<>The placing of political posters is regulated – there are special poster billboards put up for this purpose, and political parties are allowed a limited number of  roadside posters (which the parties need to clean up after the elections, or else they are charged for the clean-up by the local authorities).  People are also allowed to put posters of the party of their choice in their front window.
Political rallies are mostly done indoors.  And since the campaign is done in Dutch, foreigners would hardly notice  the campaign.As the election time nears, there would be various debates organized on television, where the main candidates of the leading parties try to present their parties as the ones with the better set of policies for running the country.   And the newspapers are full of the criticisms and counter-criticisms of each party’s  program.

About a month before the elections,  voters could consult a website that gives an advice as to which party’s  program conforms to their own beliefs. This “stemwijzer” asks the site’s visitors a set of 30 questions, and on the basis of their answers it gives its advice as to which party to vote for.  But this is not necessarily that reliable.  On 16 October, they publicly launched the “stemwijzer” by letting the main candidates of the leading parties try out the website.  Surprisingly, some party leaders were given the advice to vote for rival parties.

In the elections here, we vote for a political party (actually, we really vote for specific candidates within the various parties); the parties win seats in parliament based on the percentage of the national vote that they get. Since there are 150 seats available in the lower house of parliament, every party that gets 2/3 of 1% of the vote gets one seat. The parties maintain lists of candidates, and the seats that it gets get allocated in the order of the list – i.e. if a party gets 10 seats, numbers 1 to 10 in the candidate list usually get those seats.  The exception to this is if a candidate with a lower position on the list gets a certain number of preference votes, they get to bump off a candidate in the main list.

On election day itself (which is always a working day),  we need to choose both a party and a candidate within that party. It usually doesn’t matter which candidate we choose, since the party gets the vote anyway.  We get to vote either in a local polling station, or in a polling station in a more convenient place (e.g. near one’s workplace, at the train station, etc.)

The voting is done in one of three ways: The oldest method is done using a paper ballot. You use a special red pencil to cover a small square in front of the name of the chosen candidate.   Then there is the use of the so-called “voting machines” – this is just a big board with lots of buttons, for the various choices. You just press the candidate/party of your choice. And the third way is through the use of voting computers, which use touch screen technology.

The election results are computed rather quickly. Polling stations are set to close at 8 in the evening. By 9 p.m., preliminary results are out; and before midnight an authoritative (more or less definitive, with more than 95% of the vote counted) result is then announced.  A few years ago, there was one municipality which reported their results only at 3 a.m. – they had a technical problem with counting (some say because they used older voting machines).

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