Electoral landslide in Holland
The 8th article in the series "Political Catastrophes".

The Netherlands seemed to have a stable political system in which big traditional parties formed coalitions that ruled the country.  But the last Town Council elections proved that people can suddenly change their minds. It is not yet a catastrophe but nevertheless is again proved that stability is not eternal, that unexpected things can happen.

On March 6 only 57.7% of the voters went to the ballot boxes. Though voters got two hours more time to vote participation was .6% lowert than in 1998. In the capital Amsterdam (47.8% voters) and in the government seat The Hague (44.2%) the number of non-voters even exceeded the number of voters. Is it legitimate that representatives are chosen by minorities? The majority of non-voters (including me) do not have representatives (on whose behaviour they anyhow never have any influence) and thus they are free to act against the ruling class. For more objections against the system of elections see chapter 6 of my book "The Scarists". 

Three months before the elections nobody foresaw what was going to happen. Election polls showed that two new parties should get some votes but never so much that the political situation should change. But the elections were marked by an electoral landslide in Rotterdam, world’s biggest port. The Labour Party had ruled Rotterdam for more than 50 years. In the 1998-elections they had got only 30.1%. This year the Labour Party went down to 22.8%. The only winner was the populist, charismatic, pig-headed professor Pim Fortuyn who got 34.7% of the vote. That Fortuyn was a bald-headed homosexual did not influence the voters. Homosexuality is accepted in my country – and that should be the case in all countries. Though it is going quite well in Holland in the economic field discontentment is widespread and the political establishment is not regarded as people-friendly. Contact with the population is rare and big problems are left unsolved e.g. in health, security, education and public services including public transport. The aversion against the political elite has never been so outspoken. In the rest of the country there was a comparable electoral shift away from the old political parties as in Rotterdam. The feelings of masspeople were dormant, only waiting for the right moment to spring forward. Discontent with the present situation is one of the factors that can cause a catastrophe.

In the past political parties had a distinct program, on the left the communists and the socialists, on the right the liberals and somewhere in between a Catholic and two Protestant parties (besides many smaller parties). People knew for which party they had to vote. Then political programs started to change and in the end all parties arrived at the middle of the political spectrum. The last eight years we had a pink government formed by the Labour Party, the Liberal Party and the Pragmatic Party (D’66) but the political ideas of all parties including the opposition were comparable.  No ideology, no ideas of a new future, only pragmatic short-term solutions. And the old method of governing was restored: We (the elite) decide and You (the masses) have to listen. The oligarchy retook the ground it lost in the sixties among other causes because of the mass activities during the PROVO Movement.

General elections will be held on May 15 and the list Fortuyn together with the comparable party Liveable Netherlands will take part. The last poll showed these two populist parties would take 22 percent of the votes. The political establishment is in panic. (See Letter 25 and Letter 30 about the rise and Fall of the party of the murdered Pim Fortuyn).
Many people are dissatisfied though most still think that transferring their political power to elected representatives is the only way to get influence. They do not understand that when populist leaders assume political responsibility they will act in the same way as the present political elite. That was already proven by Mussolini and Peron in the past and by the Italian Berlusconi and the Austrian Haider in the present. Populists only use the masses to climb up to the political elite. They do not want to share any power with the man in the street.

Low participation in elections proves all over the world that people are not content with the elitist democracy. They do not know what to do against it and sometimes grasp the straw offered by populist leaders who indeed are talking fresh and different even if their ideas are accompanied by a narrow nationalism and some racism.
The present society is far from ideal and politicians should think how the masses could unfold their individuality and their creativity without an electoral system in which people’s power is transferred to third persons. I have published some thoughts about such a possibility in my article "Beyond Democracy". The present elitist politicians refuse to think about another future in which they cannot anymore manipulate the masses to preserve their own power. I propose to strive for the power of alternating minorities of active and involved citizens, the present political powers all agree that only a leading political elitist minority has the right to decide and rule.

Discontent will never vanish when the political elite wants in the first place to safeguard its own privileged position. Elections will never bring about the needed catastrophe that will change our world. Again and again populist leaders will come forward. But because they resemble more the sitting powers than the people they say they represent populism will never be the method by which the masses can achieve autonomy and freedom.

Joost van Steenis (March 20 2002)

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9. Alternating minorities versus democracy
To the index of Catastrophes