[Column] Elections

Campaign films, TV debates between political parties, columnist Bas Rooijakkers got really fed up with it all over the last few weeks. He has an idea about how to improve it.

Bas Rooijakkers: “Until a new Cabinet takes office, I’m holding my breath.” (Photo: Sam Rentmeester)

It will not have escaped you, the Provincial Council and the Water Board elections were just held. The whole country coloured green (in Dutch) for the two parties – the BBB and PvdA/GroenLinks – that were at the extreme ends of the political spectrum. It was very clear that it was election time as there were plenty of discussions about the elections and, between the gambling ads, there were slogans from political parties.

I got really irritated by the campaign films. Most of them were deadly boring, but in these elections they were also polarising. It started with a campaign spot (in Dutch) by the VVD in which climate demonstrators and so-called wappies (slang for people who firmly believe in something without evidence) are all tarred with the same brush and told to ‘Go vote, don’t let them win’. As an ‘amusing’ response, GroenLinks came up with a campaign film (in Dutch) in which a wealthy pensioner is seen with his old Mercedes and Shell shares telling the younger generation that they should not vote. All of it polarising, while every politician in the Netherlands complains that we are becoming too polarised in the Netherlands.

The television debates were even worse. I have a job on the side in which I man the service counter in my building. I usually study there, but as it was campaign time, I watched the political debate on the EenVandaag television show. It was terrible to watch. Within one hour, all the major political themes had been covered from the perspectives of the leaders of all the major parties. It was not a debate, but a kindergarten class where everybody shouted and interrupted each other and the presenter, like a teacher, tried to keep the class calm. The arguments are always the same: the policies of the parties in the Cabinet are ruining the country, and the opposition takes no responsibility.

Just let them fight it out in a football match

You will never get anywhere with this kind of debate. Each party leader is pitted against another who believes the exact opposite thing. And they never listen to each other. As a viewer, it feels more like they are trying to beat the other instead of discussing the issue. The solution is simple. Either have two parties play each other in a football match or arrange the debate completely differently. After all, it is watched by millions of people.

I recently watched a fact-checked debate about legalising weed in the United States. In the debate, there were also two people who disagree with each other, but the parties send each other a couple of facts in advance about which they should be in agreement. These facts are checked by a third party. In the debate they discuss the facts and this leads to a much more constructive discussion. To me, this system seems much more suitable for election debates on TV as political parties already disagree about the facts. They accuse each other of exaggerating the facts or using selective data to back up their positions. If you meet a third party before a debate, the debate may be much more constructive.

Bas Rooijakkers is a master’s student in Applied Physics. He was born in Brabant and spent part of his youth on Curaçao. He enjoys jogging and since the corona pandemic has also picked up cycling. He is also always in for a coffee or a craft beer.

Bas Rooijakkers / Columnist

Columnist Bas Rooijakkers

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