Sexy politicians - eight Dutch hopefuls
Who says politics can't be sexy? In the run-up to the parliamentary elections on 9 June, subscribers to a popular weekly magazine are to ‘vote’ for the country’s sexy Dutch politician.
Eight – prospective - members of parliament are in the race - seven women and one man. The winner will grace the cover of commercial television broadcaster Veronica's weekly magazine. With a print-run of one million, reaching an estimated 2.8 million readers, it’s precisely the kind of exposure politicians are looking for during an election campaign.
Or is it? Not everyone is happy with the 'Vote Sexy' campaign. The only male contestant, for one, is considering filing a complaint against Veronica. Joel Voordewind, of the Christian Union, feels he was misled. He showed up to the photo shoot thinking the pictures would accompany an interview about his party's positions. That he should dress to look "young and sharp" he found appropriate for a popular magazine. He says he would not have participated if he had known it was a beauty contest.
The magazine's editor denies they misled anyone. And the other contestants are glad to be taking part. "It's my job as a member of parliament to get my standpoint out there in every way I can. A photo shoot fits in perfectly - this is a great idea," says Christian Democrat Sabine Uitslag in newspaper De Telegraaf.
Another contestant, Animal Rights party leader Marianne Thieme, was more subdued. She was glad to do it, but says, "This is about the level for Veronica magazine."
Personalities over content
The contest is part of a trend in Dutch politics emphasizing personalities over issues - form over content. For instance, speculation is rife about who will become the next prime minister: will it be Labour's Job Cohen, Conservative VVD's Mark Rutte or Christian Democrat Jan Peter Balkenende? But the prime minister is not directly chosen by the electorate, and many feel the election should not be made into a personal contest.
A recent television documentary, Drama Democracy, claims that this is not new, and does not have to be negative. "We don't judge standpoints, but characters and plots. And in that, emotion is the key."
Janka Stoker, who teaches on the subject of leadership at the University of Groningen, says judging a politician's character is only natural in the age of television and internet.
For Vote Sexy contestant Wassila Hachchi, a candidate on the Democrats '66 (D66) list, the whole discussion isn't so important - she's just glad of the attention. In an online column, she writes, "What difference does it make? I'm just glad that I can reach people and spark their curiosity about Wassila as a public representative."
With the Vote Sexy contest, she is bound to succeed.
The contenders for the title are:
Cora van Nieuwenhuizen, Conservative VVD
Lea Boutmeester, Labour Party
Savine Uitslag, Christian Democrat
Wassila Hachchi, D66
Mariko Peters, Green Left
Joel Voordewind, Christian Union
Renske Leijten, Socialist Party
Marianne Thieme, Animal Rights party
Proud of the Netherlands, The Freedom Party and the fundamentalist Christian SGP have not fielded candidates for this particular election.