Sunday, November 19, 2006

Talking and lying

On 22 November 2006, elections will be held for the Dutch House of Representatives or Parliament (‘Tweede Kamer’). Although realising the shortcomings of politics, as illustrated by the derivation of the word parliament from the French ‘parlez’ (talking) and ‘mentir’ (lying), I consider it a citizen’s duty to vote. I’d planned to orient myself on my vote a bit earlier, but unfortunate circumstances in my family have priority.

Lately, voting is becoming more difficult. It isn't that my preferences evolve like the saying (sometimes wrongly attributed to Winston Churchill) “If you are not leftist when young, you have no heart; but if you remain leftist when growing older, you have no brain”. Voting is made harder by the similarities between politicians and cars. Modern cars, shaped by wind tunnels into optimal fuel efficiency, are hard to distinguish from each other. Likewise, polls and focus groups have moulded most politicians, especially those from the big established parties, into almost identical creatures. One must take care not to succumb to sympathy for religious fundamentalist, racist, or otherwise distasteful politicians just because they seem authentic compared to the wind tunnel models.

The Dutch political system offers the choice between several parties, and allows for creation of new parties in a relatively easy way. This is a clear benefit over systems that are essentially two-party, particularly those that seem to evolve into an almost ridiculous 50-50 split of the population (why vote? Just toss a coin). In contrast we Dutch must avoid the paralysis of choice: 25 parties have registered, 18 of them participating country-wide, of which 12 are expected to win seats in Parliament. I lack the time and the endurance to watch the circus of political debate that is unfolding on Dutch television; moreover, this will mostly involve wind tunnel candidates and is expected to be rather boring. In that sense, the late Pim Fortuyn is clearly missed. Not being wind tunnel shaped he enlivened the debate; sadly, he inspired the first political murder in the Netherlands in about four hundred years.

One of the most peculiar newcomers is the Animal Party (Partij voor de Dieren). It’s not like, decennia after giving women the right to vote, we’ve done the same for animals. Rather, apparently some people think that humans are so well off in The Netherlands, it’s time to give priority to animals. In the short novel Gen’esis I introduced the fictional activist group NatureFirst, whose members plan to commit suicide after having murdered as many people as possible, arguing that nature is best served by extinction of the human race. Within a year following publication, Pim Fortuyn was murdered by an animal activist. I guess his murderer Volkert van der Graaf will be made a honorary member of the Partij voor de Dieren.

Talking about voting rights, the Calvinist Staatkundig Gereformeerde Partij has for a long time been against voting rights for women (they probably still are – I wanted to check their website, but that is closed on Sundays. How this brings back memories from boring forced-inactive Sundays from my youth…). I’ve understood that in order not to lose half of their potential votes, they allow Calvinist women to vote for the party chosen by their husbands.

To go back to my choosing problem, wind tunnel shaping of politicians appears to diminish their charisma, so I can’t use this criterion. Fortunately, information technology is there to help. Two websites have been created to assist the indecisive voter. The first and oldest one is It starts with the question whether the Dutch should be allowed to directly choose their prime minister. In the current system, after the election the executive branch of government is formed, the biggest party delivering the PM. In contrast, many feel that the international representative of the Netherlands should be directly chosen. I wonder whether Harry Potter would have made it. As a related matter, it is a pity that the political parties, certainly the major ones, avoid addressing the future role of the Dutch royalty, whose hereditary position is an anachronism in today’s meritocratic society.

As befits the tolerant attitude of the Dutch, the query contains a question about legalisation of soft drugs. Have a joint!

Although the 30 questions cover only part of the programmes of the political parties they provide an interesting perspective, especially because the answers of the parties are also shown. Strikingly, the CDDP answers the first question affirmative, and says ‘maybe’ to the 29 others. No, they are not aiming to achieve the Guinness record for single-issue parties; according to their website they have set up a system of ‘continuous direct democracy’ (that’s the CDD) by allowing voters to select other political parties as 'leaders' on certain issues. The CDDP politicians (if elected) will then follow the 'leader' parties’ votes on these issues. An innovative idea; let’s see how it works out. Not with my vote.

Reassuringly, the Stemwijzer matches my profile close to a party I’ve voted for in the past, the VVD ('party for freedom and democracy'). However, the party leader has indicated his preference for continuing his coalition with the Christian Democrats, and I prefer to keep religion and politics separate. Moreover, the newcomer EénNL gives a better match.

The second site is After answering a list of questions, my place in the political spectrum is shown in a two-dimensional graph as right from the middle (still got some brains it appears), and neither progressive nor conservative. Closest parties in the graph, with equal distance, are again the VVD and EénNL.

Some consider a vote for a small party a lost vote, because small parties mostly don’t participate in governing. I disagree. First, opposition seats are important as well. Second, the internet tools that enable easy comparison of individual preferences with the programmes of all political parties greatly enhance the exposure of small parties to voters, so maybe after the elections they won’t be small anymore.

So with some hesitation because I haven’t seen much from their leader on television, and apart from what’s written in their programme I don’t know their intentions, I conclude EénNL may be my best choice for these elections. Congratulations Mr. Pastors. Use my vote wisely, please.

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