Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Holland Elections May Be a Referendum on the Euro

Kay van de Linde, one of Holland’s most seasoned political strategists, did not see it coming: The few seconds on Dutch television late last month which turned the country’s election campaign upside down. Deep into the four major candidates’ opening debate Aug. 27, the incumbent Prime Minister Mark Rutte ripped into his Labor Party rival, and in the process mischaracterized his job-creation program. The challenger, Diederik Samsom, shot back with five words, “nu doet u heet weer”—“you’re doing it again,” a reference to Rutte’s reputation for blurring the facts. Glued to the television, van de Linde—who had spent decades in New York running U.S. political campaigns—gasped. Samsom, he was sure, had stolen the line from Ronald Reagan, who eviscerated President Jimmy Carter in a 1980 debate, by saying, “There you go again.” And just like then, the line was a game-changer. “It set the stage. It was a key moment,” van de Linde told TIME. “Samsom became a trustworthy alternative.”

When millions of Dutch voters go to the polls on Wednesday to choose their new government, it will be a measure in part of the candidates’ performances on air. From being a distant third just three weeks ago, Samsom edged into a narrow lead in polls taken before Tuesday night’s final, seventh debate. That is a stunning rise for a long-time environmental activist for Greenpeace, whom most believed was a long shot. And while victory is far from certain—the government is run by complex coalitions—Samsom’s emergence as a leader might be a gauge too of changing campaign tactics, in a country where elections have long been fought on ideas, not personalities. “This has been a totally unexpected development,” says van de Linde. “Here was a wild man, who morphed into a quiet, thoughtful, self-confident, Prime Minister-type candidate. It has been incredible to watch.”

To be sure, Dutch voters face critical policy choices too, principally how to handle Europe’s deep economic crisis. Read More