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Dutch election debates – serious fun…

Dutch elections 2012 debate

Next week Holland will have general elections for the 5th time in 10 years. Government cabinets generally don’t last long here because there are too many parties and they can’t cooperate to solve the countries problems. Even worse, some of the populist parties seem to have no aim other than to criticize and attack others without having real solutions themselves.

This is called democracy, and it leads to slow (or no) decision making, and short term thinking instead of solving long term problems. I still like being in Holland, but when I see the mess the politicians are making I don’t mind not living here myself.

I have been away from Holland for 17 years but I normally don’t realize how much the country has changed over the years. Yesterday I had one of those moments that I saw changes I did not see before. I returned to my Amsterdam hotel room after giving a speech and turned on the TV to watch the news. After the news an election debate between the leaders of the leading parties was scheduled. I was working on some emails and did not really pay attention to it until I heard all of the politicians laughing.

I looked up, because I thought an election debate is supposed to be a serious program where parties discuss ‘important’ topics. But no, one of the party leaders, the most controversial and (probably) most hated one, Geert Wilders of the populist anti-foreigner/Islam/Europe party PVV had his birthday. So the presenter decided to ask the other party heads to sing a birthday song. Of course nobody dared to refuse (one tried by saying “let’s do this afterward”, but was conveniently ignored by the presenter) and the whole singing was ridiculous. Even the guy who had his birthday looked uncomfortable, and I was wondering how anyone could take the rest of the program serious when you start off like this.

Dutch elections 2012 debate

But it got worse, after the singing the party leaders had to give a funny one liner about a picture of one of their opponents. They had turned the debate into an enterainment program! It seems elections in Holland are not about the ideas and solutions of politicians anymore, but about how good they are at giving witty remarks in what is supposed to be an important debate. Is this what Dutch viewers want to see nowadays? Don’t they understand the significance of electing smart politicians who can execute in the middle of a European crisis, instead of ones that are funny and can sing well? I turned off the TV.

This morning while having a quick coffee in my hotel room before checking out I turned on the TV again, and coincidentally a new debate was announced: a debate in today’s “Jeugdjournaal”, the daily news program for kindergarten and primary school kids…. The Jeugdjournaal interviewed Geert Wilders in advance of the debate and he was passionately talking about the toys he used to have as a kid. I picked up the remote control and pushed the off button. Holland changed a lot.

Source of the pictures of the debate:
Economische Faculteitsvereniging Rotterdam (EFR),

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  1. I do not watch a lot of Dutch TV, but when it is on election, I’m gone. They have preselected a few items. Like anything outside Europe (Syria, China, the US, to name a few smallish things) are ignored
    I hoped the social media would make a difference. There is a lot of activity going on and especially Google+ hangouts are going on several times a day. Unfortunately, social media try to copy the TV-shows, just like the political debate follow the entertainment shows.
    I’m still in favor of democracy, but this have very little to do with making real choices.

  2. In the end I think almost all politicians around the world show the same pattern:

    what they SAY before the elections

    is NOT

    what they DO after the elections

    Once politicians got elected, economic, social circumstances can suddenly change as well as the cure / measures they suggest. In the Netherlands at least you are free to complain in public, even though it doesn’t make a difference.

    Politics? Unless you are a politician yourself, better not spend too much time on it and choose your own path.

  3. The problem in the Netherlands is that the failure to deliver election promises is baked into the system.
    Most political parties have about the same program, you do not see that many really big differences. Then, they are all to small (possibly because that lack of differentiation) to really make a government. So, getting a government after the elections has become a kind of tombola, where all promises (who did not vary that much to start with) can be dropped. Even before the elections, you know your vote is not going to make a difference.
    That is not good.

  4. I absolutely agree! It was a disgrace to see how students from the university I go to myself actually sang for that lunatic. Especially the beginning felt more like a late-night TV show rather than a serious debate about the huge problems we are facing.

    What we need is a ‘middle’ cabinet determined to bring trust and stability back. Politicians from either the extreme right of left have never delivered any improvements.