The final race of the campaign has begun. There was no compromise with the old party of power. NSC and VVD replace each other and Yesilgöz is not an ideal punching bag for the Timmermans. One thing is certain: the results of this election will be stunning.
The cliché in The Hague is that political parties spend three months campaigning, the media three weeks, and the voter three days. In this case, the election campaign has only just begun for many voters. This time, the number of floating voters is larger than in the previous election, in 2021, when significant shifts also occurred in recent days, for example with D66, which managed to obtain seven seats in the final race.
The fact that electoral tension is greater in this campaign has to do with the departure of Mark Rutte. And it’s not just the voter who’s searching, this also applies to the new political heroes.
Frank Hendricks Political correspondent for De Volkskrant. In 2022, he won the Tegel Journalism Award for his article on the face mask deal by Siewert van Linden & Associates. Hendricks was previously a correspondent in the United States and Russia.
We can already draw a tentative conclusion: the VVD is currently belying the natural political law according to which a party that says goodbye to an incumbent prime minister is doomed to electoral punishment. This doesn’t come as a complete surprise. Voter research has long shown that the VVD, even without Rutte, has a relatively stable support base, and sometimes does not even consider voting for another party.
And we can at least say about Dylan Jesselgoz that she didn’t give Liberal voters good reason to look any further. The new party leader has long been known as a hard-working, disciplined politician who at the same time appears at ease. In this way, as Minister of Justice and Security, she was able to remain in a circle known as the ministerial graveyard.
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As party leader, Yeselgoz has made some mistakes so far, also because she is careful not to take risks when it comes to content. Asylum and immigration, tax cuts for the middle class, security, reductions in cultural cooperation and development: these are the evergreen principles of the VVD that Yesilgöz pushes.
Meanwhile, Yeselgoz deftly evades questions about Rutte’s legacy by tirelessly declaring her desire to look to the future. Her opponents let her get away with that, too. The tone was set during a debate at the end of October in Arnhem between Peter Omtsigt and Frans Timmermans. PvdA-GroenLinks leader described Yeselgöz’s leadership as nothing more than a “simple change of style” in the party, which continues as usual.
Umtsigt, who had been a thorn in the VVD’s side for years, refused to agree to this. He showed himself mildly towards the new party leader. “A new class of politicians is ready in The Hague and I say in all honesty: that includes Ms. Jesseljos,” said the NSC leader, who does not want to hand himself over to GroenLinks-PvdA for fear of leftist tax plans. Progressive asylum and immigration policy.
It turned out to be a defining moment in the campaign. Classic election message: Expel the old rulers! – It never gained momentum. On the contrary: the NSC and VVD have been avoiding each other ever since. There was no compromise with the old party of power. At most, Ömtsigt Wesselguz dispenses pinpricks.
Not only did Umtzigt save Jesilgoz, but the same goes for Geert Wilders. The FDP opened the door to the FPO and thus also succeeded – intentionally or unintentionally – in neutralizing Wilders. Since then, the leader of the Freedom Party has been doing his best to win his support as a potential partner in the government, also because his voters want it.
VVD benefits from this: Yesilgöz has almost no problems and has a comfortable starting position. In the final days of the election campaign, the big money must do its work. Hardly any party has as much to spend as the VVD. Voters will be bombarded with Yesilgöz commercials in the coming days.
It is not the VVD that has become isolated after years of governmental responsibility, but Frans Timmermans. The long-time leftist leader ran a quiet election campaign in which he presented himself as a balanced leader ready to lead the Netherlands through difficult times.
This strategy was not incomprehensible. Voters are tired of the arguments and mutual accusations that have dominated Dutch politics in recent years, his campaign team also analyzed. A tone that is too harsh can deter potential voters.
Timmermans has had no luck with his opponents. Umtsigt is also respected among left-wing voters for his role on the benefits issue. As a relatively inexperienced woman of non-Western descent, Yeselgoz is not the ideal punching bag for an older white politician who describes herself as a feminist.
Under the pressure of harsh criticism within his own ranks and the accumulation of opinion polls, Timmermans appears to have changed his approach somewhat recently. In a raucous debate on SBS on Thursday, he sought confrontation with Wilders and, to a lesser extent, Cieselgos.
For Timmermans, much will now depend on strategic voters on the left side. It is no coincidence that the former European Commissioner insists that only he can stop the brutal right-wing coalition. If GroenLinks-PvdA does not become the largest, the left’s nightmare looms: a coalition of the VVD, NSC, BBB, and perhaps even the PVV. This vision of fear should continue to draw progressive and left-wing voters, who currently remain loyal to D66, Party for the Animals, SP and Volt, into the Timmermans camp.
Omtzigt van NSC will watch it with some relaxation. He will almost certainly become an important force factor out of nowhere. Opponents speculated that the former CDU member would crack under the pressure or that his young party would show growing pains, but that turned out to be a vain hope.
Omtzigt, who was an outcast within the CDA and had to seek preferential votes in 2012, has always been a strong supporter. In this campaign he presented himself no differently than he had in recent years in The Hague: a largely powerful politician with dossier knowledge and outspoken ideas who had difficulty making decisions. When the Christian Democratic Alliance was searching for a new party leader in 2020, it waited until the last minute to put itself forward as a candidate. This time he had doubts about his participation in the elections and whether he wanted to become prime minister. Who will enter the tower if the NSC becomes the Elder remains a mystery.
The latest polls cautiously suggest that not all voters appreciate this ambiguity, but Umtsigt seems to accept it. He said at the beginning of the campaign that the National Security Council was seeking “responsible growth.”
This is how leaders prepare for the final race. The tone will probably get a bit more aggressive, but everyone also knows that many voters are tired of the “Hague stuff.” Therefore, most discussions so far have been relatively timid and focused on settlement. Everyone wants to build and improve Social Security and control asylum and immigration.
This is the paradox of this election: the campaign may be relatively weak, but the results will be stunning regardless. Timmermann’s victory means that the left-wing integration movement has succeeded in challenging the political division witnessed in recent decades. Peter Omtzgut can return to a position of power from nowhere with his newly founded party. If Yeseljos wins, the Netherlands could prepare for its first female prime minister in history.
In the coming days, party leaders may continue to believe that their fate is in their hands. And then, the words that former VVD leader Josias van Aartsen once said after an election failure apply: “Voter gives, voter takes, sovereignty like the sea.”
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