These are busy days for Mikal Tseggai, a master’s student in Development Studies at the International Institute of Social Studies. With only a week left to submit her thesis, she also continues her work as the vice chair of the Partij van de Arbeid (PvdA, labour party) in The Hague’s municipal council. On top of it all, she’s actively campaigning for the national elections. “My social life is currently on the back burner”, she laughs. “But that should be temporary, as I am looking forward to spending a cozy evening with friends sometime soon.”

Political awareness

The 28-year-old Tseggai knew from an early age that she wanted to be a politician. At least, that’s what she declared sixteen years ago on a TV programme. “I can’t recall why I said that”, she laughs. “But politics was a daily topic of discussion in our home.” Her parents had fled Eritrea due to the war. “That is most likely why they are as politically aware as they are”, she says.

She started actively participating in politics early on. “When I was sixteen, a teacher arranged for me and a classmate to shadow a Member of Parliament from the VVD party After two days, I thought, I really love politics, but this party? Never!”, she laughs. After some research, she landed on PvdA as her party of choice, and at the age of twenty-two, she became a municipal council member in The Hague.

Luck

Equal opportunity is her driving force, both in the municipal council and soon in the House of Representatives. “My parents always say: if you work hard, you can achieve anything. But in the Netherlands, that’s not necessarily true”, she says.

Tseggai uses herself as an example. She was born and raised in a disadvantaged neighbourhood in Haarlem, in a family with a migrant background. However, she didn’t experience the typical hardships of receiving a much lower school recommendation. “I was fortunate that my year 8 teacher was very unbiased”, she explains.

Another stroke of luck: “We didn’t have much at home, but a neighbour happened to be a maths teacher and gave me free tutoring. That’s why I passed the final exams with good grades.”

According to her, this reliance on luck is precisely the problem in the Netherlands. “Ideally, you shouldn’t have to depend on being lucky. You shouldn’t rely on having a nice teacher who gives a good school recommendation or on having wealthy parents who can help you buy a house”, she explains. “It would be nice if our society were a bit less based on luck and more on a system where everyone can find an affordable home and where every child gets a fair chance, regardless of their parents’ income or background. That is what I aim to achieve through politics.”

Different ballgame

She acknowledges that the House of Representatives will be a different ballgame than the municipal council. “As a municipal council member, you are close to the people. You can arrange things at the local level, such as permits for affordable housing. For example, I abolished Zwarte Piet (Black Pete, ed.) at city events and arranged free homework assistance for 250 children. But I see that the national system is not working well, and I want to do something about it.”

‘Get into politics’

She encourages young people to actively engage in politics. “Some young people say: ‘I’m not interested in politics and don’t want to get involved.’ But politics does get involved with you”, she continues. “Many issues currently at play, such as the housing market, climate crisis and the rising cost of living, are things that profoundly affect young people. So you should definitely get involved to ensure that your concerns make it onto the political agenda.”

Does she think she can change society through politics? “Yes, definitely! Of course, you have to be good at collaboration and negotiation”, she says. “And it takes a lot of patience.” She has also learned to compromise, she says. “That’s not always enjoyable, but if you have to choose between achieving your goal by 50 per cent through a compromise or not at all without a compromise, then 50 per cent is better.”