Why should I care?
Because you value democracy, right? Well, if the prospect of democracy doesn’t fire you up enough to rock the vote, there are many other reasons why you should cast a ballot. Gemeenteraden, local councils, are a vital tier in the Dutch government system that essentially preside over all things local. What members of city council decide upon can have a big impact on your daily life as a student. For the past year for example, the University has been quarreling with the council about the shortage of accommodations for its international students. The outcome of the upcoming elections could play a big role in solving this issue.
If you’ve already got your accommodation sorted out, there are still plenty of reasons why you should care. For instance, the city council is responsible for building local infrastructure such as cycling paths, taking care of local welfare and providing home care. And they have the authority to decide on the closing hours of your favorite clubs and coffee shops, which may be a more critical issue for students than the other reasons listed above.
How does the city government work?
The Rotterdam city council is made up of 45 representatives, currently representing as many as 12 different parties. These councillors draw up policies for the city and supervise the execution of them within the city. The city council also determines the annual budget for Rotterdam.
Due of the vast number of parties taking part in the elections, city councils are forced to form coalitions. As soon as the votes have been counted, the winning parties will begin to form a working coalition of parties with similar ideals that can work together to create and implement policies. Rotterdam also has a layer below the city council, the district committees, which focus on very local issues in places such as Kralingen and Noord. The members of these committees will be elected on March 21st as well.
So catch me up about local politics in Rotterdam?
As far as local elections go, this one is a real doozy. Rotterdam is expected to
become a battlefield on election day as all the national parties, as well as local political parties, are contesting for votes. The populist party PVV, which was founded by Geert Wilders, whom the New York Times compared to Donald Trump, is running for the first time this year. On the other side of the coin we have parties such as NIDA and DENK, which are popular particularly among the Moroccan and Turkish diaspora.
Between these parties there’s more than a dozen other parties from all sides of the political spectrum to choose. Left-wing green party Groenlinks is currently second in the polls, and wants to form a progressive coalition, without populist parties PVV and Leefbaar Rotterdam, the party that currently has the most representatives in the council. Considering the most recent polls, these parties are expected to get around 25 percent of the votes in Rotterdam.
If these parties don’t satisfy your political sweet tooth, there are a few other standout options to choose from. For all you old souls, there’s the party 50 Plus, which looks out for the interests of geriatrics. The Ubuntu Connected Front, a party representing the Caribbean and African Rotterdammer. And the Orthodox-Christian party JezusLeeft (Jesus is alive), whom you might have seen driving around the city in their big blue schoolbus with the words “Jesus loves you” painted on the front.
How to cast your vote on election day
So I am eligible to vote, what is next?
Voting has never been this easy: a stempas (voting card) will be sent directly to your mailbox from the Rotterdam municipality. To vote, all you have to do is go to a local polling station on March 21 with your voting card and ID. Polling stations are located all across the city, including on campus. And don’t worry about oversleeping; you can cast your vote from 7.30 to 21.00 hours.
What do I do once I get to the polling station?
In Rotterdam alone, there are 519 candidates belonging to 20 different parties. That means the ballot paper is ridiculously large, so don’t be surprised if you’re handed something that resembles a map when you enter the polling station. Once you’ve chosen the one who deserves your vote, you can express your almighty power by filling in a little square next to the name with a cute red pencil. Do not ‘tick’ two boxes or your vote will not be considered. If a Russian-sounding person walks into your polling booth and tells you how you should vote, avoid colluding with them. Oh, and there is no need to buy red pencils yourself: these are provided in the polling booths.