Author: Ruud Hisgen
Did you know that you are entitled to vote on March 16, 2022, in the municipal elections when you are a registered resident in the Netherlands and at least 18 years old, when you are an EU citizen or when you have lived here for more than five years? Grab this opportunity, bring your election pass (stempas) and vote, vote, vote.
By now you’re probably spluttering: “What do I know about Dutch politics?” Right, but you probably also realise that this sounds like a weak excuse. So, to help you explore the world of Dutch politics and the gentle art of election, Ruud Hisgen has collected a few helpful phrases together with some useful information.
De verkiezing (the election)
The word verkiezing comes from the irregular verb kiezen (to choose). The Dutch love this word and the ensuing action. They will get passionately involved in one of the four national elections: national, provincial, municipal and, yes waterboard elections (waterschapsverkiezingen). The municipal and waterboard elections are quite unique because the government allows non-Dutch residents living in the Netherlands to vote. Every four years, there are municipal verkiezingen (elections).
De gemeente (the municipality)
The word gemeente is related to the word gemeen which means “collective” or “common”. The translation of “British Commonwealth”, for instance, is Brits Gemenebest. So, a gemeente is a collective of burgers (citizens). On January 1, 2022, the Dutch counted 345 municipalities in the Netherlands. Each year, there are less of them because these municipalities have a tendency of merging and becoming larger. In 1950, there were 1015 municipalities!
Burgemeester en wethouders (mayor and aldermen)
The gemeente is governed by the mayor (de burgemeester) and several aldermen (de wethouders). The word burgemeester is a combination of burger (citizen) and meester (master). So, he is the master of citizens. The burgemeester and the wethouders are members of the College van Burgemeester en Wethouders (the bench of the mayor and aldermen). And the burgemeester is the chairperson of this college.
The wethouders are the people who uphold (houden) the law (de wet). Each municipality must have at least two wethouders, but the bigger the municipality, the more wethouders there are. A wethouder is an administrator or manager who is responsible for a certain area of municipal policy such as education, social services, economy, housing etc. These wethouders are chosen by the gemeenteraad (the municipal council). Citizens choose the members of the gemeenteraad (municipal council).
De gemeenteraad (the municipal council)
Every four years, the citizens of a certain municipality go to the stembureau (the polling station) and each citizen votes for one gemeenteraadslid (member of the council). This is important because the members of the council (gemeenteraadsleden) will decide on the plans for the municipality over the next four years and what the municipality will spend its money on. Public security, health, education, arts and culture, housing, parking fees, language lessons, roads, dog taxes etcetera. These are all important matters to us city dwellers, and that’s why we should all stemmen (vote).
De stempas (the voting pass)
So, you are entitled to vote…. What will you do? As a registered citizen, you will officially receive a stempas (voting pass) in your mailbox. On Wednesday, March 16, 2022 (between 7.30am and 9pm), you’ll walk to your nearest polling station. Don’t forget your passport or drivers licence or identity card to show the official that you’re really the same person as mentioned on the stempas.
Give the official your stempas and you will receive a glimlach (smile) and a stembiljet (ballot). Go to a voting booth, make sure that nobody is spying on you and colour one (only one, mind you!) little vakje (box) on the stembiljet (ballot) rood (red). After completing this, close your stembiljet and slide it in the stembus (the ballot box). Watch out, if you colour more than one vakje on the stembiljet, your ballot will be invalid.
De lijsttrekker (the person heading the list of candidates)
You’ll probably get a shock when you read the stembiljet in the stemhokje for the first time, especially if you’ve never voted in the Netherlands before. You’ll probably see long lists of candidates; as if every second Dutchie has put their name down.
Most Dutchies, however, will vote for the lijsttrekker of the partij (party) of their choice, because they also have no idea who’s who.
De politieke partij (the political party)
As you know, the Dutch political world is riddled with politieke partijen (political parties) and, to make things even more complicated, each municipality also has a local partij that only deal with local matters. So, the challenge is, what to kiezen (choose) and what to stemmen (vote). You can get more information about the parties online, in the town hall or from your neighbour.
De StemWijzer (vote match)
De StemWijzer was developed by the Hague organisation ProDemos as a tool to help stemmers (voters) test their political preferences. Many municipalities have their own local StemWijzer. You enter your opinion by answering some thirty propositions on an extremely wide range of issues, and the programme calculates which party most closely matches your points of view. The StemWijzer’s role is therefore exceptionally educational. It’s handy to know that ProDemos has made “local” StemWijzers on behalf of municipal and provincial governments and the water boards.
De StemWijzer is also an excellent educational tool, because by answering the questions, you’ll learn many new Dutch words. Remember to have a dictionary close by!
After you have gestemd (voted), you will feel much more part of the gemeente (municipality) of which you are a part of. It will motivate you to use your mastery of Dutch and in doing so, you will improve your understanding of the language and the quality of the standard of living here among the lowlanders.