Dutch turnout up slightlyin European election
10 June 2004
AMSTERDAM — Commentators are anticipating a slightly higher turnout for the European election in the Netherlands on Thursday compared with five years ago when just under 30 percent of the electorate bothered to vote. The result will be announced shortly after polls close at 9pm.
As voters trickled to polling booths around the country, it was estimated 15 percent of registered voters in Holland had cast their ballot by 2pm. This is 3 percent more than the last European election in 1999.
Exit polls on Thursday suggested the increased publicity about the expansion of the EU in May – when 10 states joined the 15-member bloc – had brought turnout up to the level of 10 years ago when 16 percent had voted by 2pm. When the polls finally closed in 1994, 35.6 percent of the electorate had voted.
In the second-largest election process in the world, 349 million voters in 25 European countries are eligible to vote in the European elections over the next four days. Only the India general election, with 370 million registered voters, is bigger.
The UK, the leading eurosceptic member of the EU, and euroapathic Holland kicked off the European election process on Thursday, followed by most of the other member states over the weekend. The UK had the lowest turnout among member states in 1999 when only 24 percent voted.
Almost 12 million Dutch people and European Union citizens living in the Netherlands are eligible to vote to choose the 27 Dutch Members of the European Parliament (MEPs). Due to expansion, the number of Dutch MEPs has fallen four from 31.
European expats who are registered with the Dutch population register have been sent a voting card with the address of their local polling station.
The biggest question is not so much who will be chosen to represent the Netherlands in the European Parliament for the next five years – rather how many will actually bother to exercise their democratic right at all.
The Netherlands is regarded as being relatively positive about EU membership. Some 62 percent said it is “a good thing” in a recent Eurobarometer poll.
But when it comes to voting in European elections, the Dutch have a fairly dismal track record. Just under 30 percent of the Dutch electorate voted at the last European elections in 1999.
Voters can choose from 15 political parties taking part in the election in the Netherlands, ranging from the Socialist Party SP, Labour PvdA, and green party GroenLinks on the left, the centrist Christian Democrat CDA, Liberal VVD and Democrat D66, to the tiny Nieuw Rechts (New Right).
Animal lovers also have the choice of voting for the PvdD – the Party for the Animals.
In recent weeks hopes of a higher turnout in the Netherlands and in other EU states had been expressed in the media. On Wednesday a new pan-EU opinion poll indicated an average of 52 percent across the EU states were expected to vote, up from 50 percent in 1999, French news agency AFP reported.
Despite widespread euro scepticism and voter apathy in the Netherlands, opinion poll findings suggest a hike in the turnout figures generated by the increasing publicity about the EU as a result of the expansion.
Polling booths across the Netherlands opened at 7.30am local time and remain open until 9pm.
The Dutch government is experimenting with initiatives to make voting more attractive.
In the towns Assen, Deventer, Heerlen and Nieuwegein, voters can decide which polling booth within their municipality to go to, without having made a prior arrangement.
Prior to this, voters had to seek authorisation to vote anywhere but their local polling station.
In a second experiment, Dutch voters living overseas can cast their ballot via internet or telephone.
Risking the ire of the European Commission, the Dutch government plans to release the election results for the Netherlands on Thursday night, ahead of voting in the other EU states, apart from the UK.
The European Commission has warned of legal action against the Netherlands if it goes ahead and releases the results early.
[Copyright Expatica News 2004]
Subject: Dutch news + European elections 2004