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Who is Alexander Pechtold?


Though Geert Wilders and his anti-Moroccan comments dominated  headlines following last month’s municipal elections throughout The Netherlands, the clear winner was the Democraten 66 (D66, Democrats 66) and its leader Alexander Pechtold (pictured above).Netherlands Flag Icon

Nearly a year and a half after the last Dutch general election, D66 is emerging in polls as the strongest party in The Netherlands today, in light of the government’s increasing unpopularity under the strain of budget cuts and a continued sluggish economy.

Notably, D66 became the largest party in both Amsterdam and Utrecht. That’s a big deal because Amsterdam since 1946 has been the stronghold of the Partij van de Arbeid (PvdA, Labour Party), the junior partner in the current Dutch government. It’s a sign of just how unpopular the government has become, and how specifically unpopular the Labour Party has become.

Nationally, the Christen-Democratisch Appèl (CDA, Christian Democratic Appeal) won the highest share of the vote with 17.7%, largely on the strength of rural voters.

The center-right, liberal Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie (VVD, People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy), the leading partner of the national government placed second with 12.7%, a significant decrease.

But D66 placed third with 9.6% of the vote and, in light of the advances in Amsterdam and Utrecht, emerged from the March 19 elections as the party with the most momentum in Dutch politics today.

It’s somewhat of an odd party.

Founded in (you guessed it!) 1966 by journalist Hans van Mierlo, its original goal was to make The Netherlands a more democratic country, with a two-party presidential republic and greater direct participation through referenda. 

Today, it doesn’t necessarily want to enact a presidential republic, but it’s still split between an older radical wing and a newer liberal wing, and it has essentially become a just-left-of-center party that’s both socially liberal and economically liberal, with chiefly urban appeal limited to The Netherlands’s large cities and progressive university towns. 

An art historian by training, Pechtold was the mayor of Wageningen before making the leap into national politics. He briefly served in the second government of Jan Pieter Balkenende between 2005 and 2006 as minister for government reform and kingdom relations. Continue reading Who is Alexander Pechtold?

Who is Diederik Samsom? A look at the newest party leader in the Netherlands

When Dutch voters tune into tonight’s debate — the second in advance of the September 12 parliamentary election — they will be watching closely the man who was deemed to be the winner of last week’s debate.

That’s Diederik Samsom, the leader of the social democratic Partij van de Arbeid (PvdA, the Labour Party), is riding a wave of popularity, with Labour rising very narrowly in the polls and with indications that Dutch voters may be giving Samsom his first real look as they contemplate doubts about Emile Roemer, the popular leader of the Socialistische Partij (SP, the Socialist Party).

A former Greenpeace activist who once studied nuclear energy and physics, Samsom has been a Labour member of the Tweede Kamer, the lower house of the Dutch parliament, since 2003, and has served as the party’s spokesperson for environmental issues.  Hailing from the left branch of the Labour Party, Samsom opposed extending the Dutch military presence in Iraq in 2004 in defiance of much of his own party.

The Labour Party currently holds the second-largest number of seats in the Tweede Kamer — 30 seats to 31 for the party of prime minister Mark Rutte, the the Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie (VVD, the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy).

Many Dutch voters appear ready to reject Rutte’s brand of austerity, which would normally leave Labour well-placed for the elections.  Instead, Labour has watched as Roemer and the Socialists bounded to the top of the polls, tied or even leading Rutte’s VVD. Continue reading Who is Diederik Samsom? A look at the newest party leader in the Netherlands