Time to Vote

voteamsterdamToday is the local elections for Amsterdam, and I get to vote. In fact I got to vote three times; once for the city council, once for the supervisory board, and once in a referendum on development of Elandsgracht. Add to that the fact that there are 26 parties plus a couple of independents and you can see that I’ve had a busy day.

This is what one of the voting forms looked like.

votelistYou really do need to do some research before you get to the voting booth. I used the ‘kieskompas‘ to narrow down which party to vote for, it asks you your views on various issues of importance, a total of thirty questions. It then plots your position against the policies of the parties. Here’s my result – apparently I’m neither left nor right (in Dutch politics) and I’m only slightly progressive.

partysortThere are quite a few parties in the circle that apparently match my views, including “CU” which is the Christian Union, which bases its policies on the bible. This might be as accurate as a Buzzfeed quiz.

I went back and looked at the issues I found most important, and choose a party based on that, once in the voting booth I then looked down the list for any names that weren’t Dutch. Given that I don’t know any of the candidates it’s as good a way of choosing a candidate as any.

According to a poll conducted by Dutchnews, expats and foreigners in Amsterdam are choosing D66 this year. I spoke to a Dutch friend who said that for D66 is the party most likely to attract well-educated people with a social conscience, and I guess that matches a lot of expats living here.

The turnout is expected to be low, but in the four major cities there could be a change in who leads the council, in Amsterdam it’s between PvdA and D66, (centre left and centre right, both somewhat progressive), PvdA is the incumbent and probably suffers because of that. In The Hague the contest is more interesting; the socially progressive libertarian D66 and the anti-immigration “Partij voor de Vrijheid” (Party for Freedom). That’s one I’ll watch with interest.


Protesting for Turkey

There were very dramatic protests on Dam Square this afternoon, protesting against human rights abuses in Turkey. The signs were in Dutch and Turkish, and the guy with the megaphone was switching between Dutch, Turkish and English.

There was a quiet police presence, but when a slight confrontation broke out it was the other protesters and by-standers who sorted it out.

GMO = Get Monsanto Out

Encountered a small obstacle in my shopping yesterday, a protest, and a reasonably sized one, against Monsanto, Genetically Modified Foods, corporate greed in genearal and popcorn.

The justification of GMO foods often goes around how we’ve always done it (true, but by breeding programmes rather than in the lab) and that it’s an opportunity to solve world hunger (true, certain strains of grains have been more productive or more climate resistant).

However there are a lot of reasons to have concerns;

  • health reasons, the nutrient composition of GMO foods is different, according to research the calcium concentration is 247x less in GMO foods.
  • health reasons 2, concerns that GMOs may be connected to cancer, according to research it causes tumours in rats.
  • Environmental reasons, including increased use of pesticides and damage to other organisms, it’s a sadly long list of environment impacts.
  • economic reasons, this was the reason to move to GMO in the first place ie; if we can grow more crops/fish on the same resources we can feed more people. However it seems that the crops under-perform leaving the farmers worse off.

None of these issues are new. I can remember raising them at a presentation by the then US Ambassador to the Netherlands. He had been trying to explain that GMO’s were the answer to world hunger. He was confused by my question which related to the impact of GMOs on insect populations, less confused by another person’s question on the concentration of economic power into the hands of a few companies. But ultimately had no answer for either.

Foreigners to sign document supporting Dutch constitution

Screen Shot 2013-02-24 at 11.50.27 AMIn a new proposal foreigners will be forced to sign a document that they endorse the values of the Dutch Constitution.

So what would we be signing up to? There’s a fairly long summary in English of the Dutch constitution on wikipedia. In essence it covers the items of any western democracy;

It includes;

  • Equality before the law and the prohibition of discrimination
  • The right to vote
  • The right of written petition
  • Freedom of religion
  • Freedom of speech – which includes freedom of the press.
  • Freedom of association
  • Freedom of assembly
  • Right to Privacy
  • Secrecy of communication/privacy of correspondence
  • Right to liberty
  • Nulla poena sina praevia lege – the legal fundamental concept that you cannot apply a low retroactively
  • Right to counsel
  • Labour Rights
  • Freedom of education

All of those values are important to me, all exist in some form the legislation of my home country. So I should have no problem with the implementation of this new rule right? Wrong.

The rule is fundamentally unfair, in the last few days I’ve spoken to many Dutch-born, Dutch citizens. Few have read their constitution. Why should foreigners be held to a higher standard than locals?

The rule will fail, at least in respect to EU citizens who move here, since the EU directive – which the Dutch government repeatedly tries to ignore – gives EU citizens the right to move and reside freely within the Member States.

It’s be nice if the Dutch government, and members of parliament, followed the principles set out in the constitution; three examples where they don’t (1) The right to secrecy of communication is – according to the wikipedia article – broken at will by the police. (2) That retroactive legislation thing – many of the requirements for inburgering (assimilation of foreigners) are being applied to people who arrived before the law was passed and (3) most egregious of all – an MP who regularly attacks a specific religion using parliamentary privilege to do so. Surely if anyone should be upholding the values of the constitution it’s an elected member of parliament.

One final gripe; I can’t vote national elections as a non-citizen. Fair enough – but then why do I have a greater responsibility to uphold the values of the constitution than those who get to exercise their right to vote?

Right now this is a proposal, a poorly thought through proposal. But governments come up with proposals for one of two reasons; either to win votes, and we’re a long way from an election, or to solve a problem. What problem could this conceivably solve?

Dutch Election; and the winner is…

Nobody…  yet.

Yesterday was an election in the Netherlands for the “Tweede Kamer” (House of Representatives), but there is no clear majority winner. This is normal in Dutch politics – in fact in any electoral system based on proportional representation. So now we go into a phase where a ‘formateur’ works with the parties to negotiate a coalition. The formateur is appointed by the Queen, and must report to her when a government can be formed – or if an impasse is reached and no government can be formed.

Dutch Election Poster

“The government must do less and achieve more”

The raw results are in, and they’re interesting. (Final results won’t be in until next week).

The two parties with the highest percentage of votes are VVD (41 seats) and PvdA (38 seats). These are the central right, and central left parties in Dutch politics.

The biggest loser seems to be PVV, the anti-immigration party led by Geert Wilders. Their total seats are likely to be 15, down from the 24 they currently hold. It’s interesting to note where this party has its biggest support. From a google map mashup it appears to be limited to very southern areas (look for the electorates coloured grey). The bigger cities, with multicultural populations, have voted PvdA in general. Remember that in Dutch elections only Dutch citizens can vote, so in the areas most affected by immigration the Dutch citizens did not vote for the anti-immigration party.

So we’re heading towards a centrist government, and away from the fringes. Or at least that’s the likely outcome. There’s some negotiation to go through first. This time it seems to be lead by the parties themselves, in a spirit of co-operation. That’s already a more promising step than the confusion and delays we saw after the last election.

Election Countdown

Currently we don’t have a government in the Netherlands, so there’ll be an election on the 12 September to vote for a new one. The parties have begun their campaigns by setting up billboards all over the city. This one is from the Partij voor de Vrijheid (Party for Freedom), a right-wing party that has been prominently anti-immigration and anti-Islam.  They party put up billboards in the Bijlmer, an area full of migrants, some of whom have origins in Islamic countries.

Within a day they were “edited”.


If you’ve had issues with someone from Limburg there is now a website where you can report it.

Limburg has been part of the Netherlands since 1866, allowing workers from to travel freely from Limburg to the other eleven provinces. Many Limburgers now live amongst the rest of the population.

The site goes on to invite visitors to submit their complaints about “Limbos”, whether you’ve lost a job to one, or been subject to their drunken antics. So far there have been hundreds of submissions.

No there isn’t a sudden prejudice against the most southern province – well, no more than usual. The site is a parody of the latest bit of offensive publicity seeking from PVV.

It’s hard to believe; The Freedom Party have set up a hotline site where you can submit complaints about people from middle and eastern Europe. They claim to have had 32,000 responses so far.

So why does the parody site use Limburg? Geert Wilders was born in Venlo, a town in Limburg. So if he’s the Limburger who has caused problems for you, you can now report him.

Occupy Amsterdam

Well actually, occupy everywhere. There are demonstrations planned for Saturday 15th October across the Netherlands, in Amsterdam it’s in Dam Square and outside the Dutch National Bank (near Frederiksplein).

I’m fully aware that there is plenty wrong with the current monetary system. But I’m not sure how “no debt” + “no taxes” can still equal “free healthcare”. But perhaps more of the tax money should have been spent on educating people on simple maths.

From Racist to Ridiculous

Various Dutch MPs, presumably reflecting the view of Dutch voters, periodically try to ban the Burka.

I’m no fan of the Burka as I’ve written before, however the Dutch constitution guarantees freedom of religion. Which to me means that if a woman follows Islam, and believes she should wear a burka as part of that religion she should be able to choose to wear it. Yes, I know, sometimes it is not her choice but a rule enforced by her male relatives, this is an argument used by proponents of banning the burka to position removing her right to choose what to wear as feminist. I would say that forcing her to abandon the burka is not freeing her from domination by her father or husband.

But this week the plans to ban the burka have taken a madly Politically Correct turn;

‘I am drafting legislation on face-covering clothing which will apply to all Dutch nationals,’ the minister is quoted as saying in the Telegraaf.

‘We still have to decide how far we will go to deal with motorbike helments (sic), carnival costumes and balaclavas during the Elfstentocht [skating race],’ the minister said.

So in order to maintain some veil of fairness the government is banning all face coverings including masks worn at parties, motorbike helmets and balaclavas in winter sports.

Do they realise how completely ridiculous this is getting? Or is this an attempt to make the legislation so absurd that it will never be passed.

Squatters’ Rights

Damage left by rioting squatters.

Damage left by rioting squatters.

I was wandering through town today and saw a whole lot of damage on the street. Evidence of rubbish, fires, signs uprooted. But oddly no bikes damaged.

I didn’t know what it was about until I got home this evening and checked out the local news. Apparently there were riots on Friday night, by the local squatters.

A law came into effect on Friday banning squatters, there are several squats on the Spuistraat, one of which has been there for more than 25 years. The squatters’ rights were maintained for years and it meant that property developers would hire “anti-squatters” to live in empty properties since you could only claim empty properties as squats. I’m sure there’s some political justification why it’s OK to take over empty buildings, destroy the inside and live there without paying rent or property taxes but it eludes me.

"thanks for the damage"

So the law has been changed, and the squatters protested last night. At first the protest was peaceful, but it soon degenerated into a riot, with property being destroyed, some cars being overturned and shopfronts destroyed.

There’s a video in Dutch showing some of the events of the night, and more images on Nu.nl (click on “fotoseries”)