Column: Vishal Onkhar

[Column] Secret ballot

Vishal Onkhar dives into the rabbit hole of Dutch politics to make an ‘informed vote’ for the House of Representatives election. There’s no perfect vote, he discovers.

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It’s a funny thing, becoming a Dutch citizen. One moment you’re an outsider peering in, and the next, you’re expected to fulfil a solemn duty to vote in the democracy. This new role was foisted on me sooner than I expected, with the abrupt collapse of the Government in July. It’s almost as if it were waiting for my passport to arrive.

For years, I’d loosely followed the Dutch political landscape, being aware of the major parties and their general stances, but never with the intention of holding a ballot paper in my hand. Politics in the Netherlands had been a guilty pleasure on my newsfeed – a theatre of sorts where I knew the actors, recognized the plot, and took amusement at the antics. The dramatic exploits of certain politicians, some bordering on the absurd, provided entertainment and, in a twisted way, clues into who was worth their salt, who was blatantly incompetent, and who treaded the more dangerous waters of extremism – the good, the bad, and the ugly of Dutch leadership.

But as the election loomed, suddenly I was thrust into the thick of it if I wished to make an ‘informed vote’. It was a daunting task, deciphering this political labyrinth, but I dove headfirst into the rabbit hole anyway. I combed through the websites of parties, pored over their manifestos, and even tackled the language barrier by translating Dutch political jargon. It often felt like decoding ancient scripture – at times enlightening, at times utterly baffling.

Each quiz was a reminder of the complexity of aligning with a political party

I also looked into the parties’ target demographics, read critical analyses fleshing out the nuance in their stances, and engaged in lengthy discussions with politically savvy friends. I even took a bunch of quizzes e.g. StemWijzer, Kieskompas and Stemmentracker, but our relationships were bittersweet. Each quiz was a reminder of the complexity of aligning with a political party. Like matchmaking services that couldn’t quite grasp my preferences, they left me with matches hovering around 50% compatibility and no clear winner. So much for digital Cupids.

I also briefly entertained the idea of a blank vote but recoiled at the thought of wasting an opportunity to make a positive impact, however small, on the country. This whole endeavour of making an ‘informed vote’ felt ironically uninformed, as if I were back at square one, armed with little more than my initial, half-baked political knowledge. I wondered if the average Dutch voter went to so much trouble or if all this research was just an immigrant’s way of overcompensating.

In discussions with my Dutch friends, I found echoes of my own confusion. The closer we got to the election, the more it seemed we were all part of a grand, indecisive chorus, unsure of the next note. And yet we all shared a general dissatisfaction with the way things were currently being run. Was this merely a reflection of our insulated bubble, or a broader national trend? Hard to say.

But through it all, I observed the Dutch love for statistics and pretty graphs. Polls and surveys were as frequent as rain in Delft, each painting a slightly different picture, much like the diverse, often conflicting advice one receives when seeking feedback on a CV. It was reminiscent of the Indian or American media, minus the overt polarisation and propaganda.

Ultimately, I realised that choosing a party is indeed much like crafting a CV. You gather all the information you can, sift through the advice, and in the end, rely on your gut. There’s no perfect vote, just as there’s no perfect CV. It’s about making the best choice you can with what you know and hoping it aligns with the broader tapestry of values of a nation you now call home.

Vishal Onkhar is from Chennai, India and pursuing his PhD on self-driving cars at TU Delft. He is an avid museum goer and chess player, but also harbours a soft spot in his heart for dancing and petting cats. He doesn’t drink coffee, but good books, music, and film have the same effect on him.

Columnist Vishal Onkhar

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