An official letter with a small paper that looks important, arrives in your letterbox. The text is entirely in Dutch. What is it? Do I have to pay taxes again? For many expats it is unclear, one throws the paper, which later turns out to be a voting pass, into the trash. The other is trying to use google translate to understand it.
With sixteen participating parties in the municipal elections, choosing the right party is not always easy. This is especially true for the many expats who are also allowed to vote. Tuesday night in The Hub, about twenty people met to learn more about Dutch politics. They were looking for answers to questions such as: What kind of parties are there? How does Dutch democracy work? And what party should I vote for?
Jean Paul Close is the initiator of the evening. He finds it ridiculous that there is so much ambiguity among expats. “We called ourselves the ‘smartest region of the world’ in 2011 and cannot provide a voting pass that is also in English. If I then invite a public official to explain their party, the invitation is rejected because he does not speak English properly. That is a shame because it is an important audience.
Nevertheless, there are four parties present to introduce themselves and guide the expats in the political maze. After a short introduction, the CDA, the PVDA, D66 and BBL will talk to the expats. But is it enough? Luca is disappointed. “I had hoped that the parties would go into depths and really tell what they wanted to do with Eindhoven. I need a clear party programme and not a promotional talk.” For Michele, too, the evening is not as he expected: “I had expected more representatives of the parties”. They both indicate that they want to vote, but simply do not have enough information to make an informed choice.
Praveen Kypa also finds it difficult to make a choice. A few weeks ago, he started the Voices of Expats initiative in Eindhoven, with the aim of collecting the problems that expats encounter and to jointly better understand the positions of the parties when it comes to these problems.
Kypa has been living in Eindhoven for more than ten years and he considers the developments in the city important. “I would like to make a contribution, but I do not know how. I notice that a lot of expats are experiencing this.” By collecting the questions and problems that Expats have and experience, Kypa wants to make that contribution. “We are trying to get more expats to vote and to start a dialogue. But then you have to know what the issues are that expats consider important. By collecting these issues, we want to speak out as a group rather than raise these issues individually. We need guidance in this process.” With Voices of Expats in Eindhoven, Kypa wants to bridge the gap between politics and the many expats who want to actively contribute to the city.
Many expats would like to vote, but find it difficult to make an informed choice on the 21st of March. The political parties all deal with this in a different way. Some of the parties have made the election manifesto, or a summary thereof, available in English. Below is an overview of the parties that have it, other parties either don’t have an English electoral programme online, or do not respond to enquiries about it. While the LPF says that it consciously does not have an election programme in English: “After 5 years of residence in our country, many expats are reasonably proficient in the Dutch language. In addition, if you do not understand or can’t read Dutch, on what basis can you then cast a well-founded vote?”
But how big is this audience, how many persons entitled to vote are expats? This is difficult to define, especially as the available figures, which are shown in an infographic below, are not just about expats. Still, it does give an indication of how many people who are not of Dutch origin may decide about the city of Eindhoven.
On January 1st of 2017, Eindhoven had 226.868 citizens. Of those, 181.399 are allowed to vote in the upcoming city council elections.
With 163.046 Dutch citizens, that means that the group of citizens who do not have a Dutch origin exists of 18.353 people.
The biggest groups among those are the Polish (2.371), the Turkish (1.729) and the Italians (1.016).
To put that in perspective, in the last city council elections in 2014, the turnout was only 44,74%. In that election, a party needed around 1.745 votes to win a seat on the city council.