On Wednesday, expats and Dutch citizens across the country went to the polls to cast their votes in the 2023 provincial and water board elections. Here’s a quick rundown of what happened. 

High turnout for 2023 Dutch provincial elections

Every four years, the Netherlands holds elections so citizens and residents can vote for representatives on their Provincial Council and water board (waterschap). The results of the provincial elections can have significant effects on the governing and policies of the country, as the results also determine the makeup of the Senate (Eerste Kamer). 

This year saw the highest turnout for provincial elections the Netherlands has seen in 36 years, with 62,1 percent of the Dutch population turning up to cast their votes on March 15. In the provincial elections four years ago, turnout was just 56 percent. According to NOS, around 89 percent of the votes have been counted so far. 

BBB set to claim 16 seats in Eerste Kamer, coalition parties to lose 9

The high turnout led to big wins for the BoerBurgerBeweging, or Farmer-Citizen Movement (BBB). According to the latest projection published by ANP, the BBB, led by Caroline van der Plas, has won 16 of the 75 seats in the Senate, making it one of the biggest parties in the Eerste Kamer. It’s estimated that the party claimed 19,4 percent of the national vote.

BBB shares that achievement with the political left, as together, GroenLinks and the Labour Party (PvdA) have 15 seats. Meanwhile, the four coalition parties – People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), D66, Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) and Christian Union (CU) – have seen their number fall from 32 to just 23.

Relative newcomer Van der Plas has been making waves in the Dutch political scene since launching her party at the end of 2019. As a result of the 2021 general election, the BBB occupies one seat in the House of Representatives (Tweede Kamer). Now, following this historic win, it is likely to become the largest party in all 12 provinces.

Van der Plas’ historic win could spell trouble for Rutte’s cabinet

In the past three elections, the BBB’s campaign has largely focused on the cabinet’s nitrogen policy, rising up the polls as a representative for farmers who feel betrayed by the government’s 10-step plan, designed to reduce nitrogen emissions by 50 percent in the Gelderse Vallei, North Brabant and Limburg by 2030.

In response to the exit polls published after voting closed last night, Van der Plas said the high turnout and results show how dissatisfied Dutch citizens have become with politics: “Normally, people stay at home if they no longer have confidence in politics, but today they showed that they no longer stay at home. They have made their voices heard.”

Prime Minister Mark Rutte, on the other hand, had an altogether less successful night. Not only does the BBB’s success spell trouble for his coalition and nitrogen policy, but with his party (the VVD) set to lose two Senate seats and his coalition partners CDA set to lose four, the coalition’s mandate in the Senate is in jeopardy. 

CDA leader Wopke Hoekstra described the results as “a landslide in size, an extremely bitter pill”, but when talking to NOS, Rutte was confident that, while the outcome was “not the profit [he] wanted”, it would have “no immediate consequences for the country’s governability” and “the cabinet would remain stable in the coming years.”

The Netherlands still awaiting results of water board elections

Non-Dutch citizens (i.e. expats and internationals living in the Netherlands) are only eligible to vote in the water board elections. The Dutch water boards are extremely important, as they are responsible for water management in the Netherlands – managing the country’s polders, dikes, and other waterworks – but have fewer knock-on effects on the makeup of the Dutch government.

The results of the water board elections are due to be announced on Friday, March 17.

Thumb: Ruud Morijn Photographer via Shutterstock.com.

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