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The Dutch General Election of 2017

Netherlands Election (Angharad Neal-Williams)

On 15 March 2017 general elections were held in The Netherlands to elect the 150 members of the House of Representatives. These elections have been interesting in many ways. The turnout was around 82%, which is the highest turnout since 1986, and a record number of 28 parties have participated. Also, the now outgoing government has served a full term, which has not occurred since 2002. Furthermore, many people feared that, after the unexpected results of the Brexit referendum and the US presidential elections, The Netherlands would follow in the wake of the widespread right-wing populism in Europe. For a long time, the right-wing populist, anti-Islam Party for Freedom (PVV) was leading in the pre-election polls.

Election results

However, PVV did not win the elections. Its huge lead in the pre-election polls gradually crumbled and eventually, the conservative-liberal People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) won the elections with 33 seats. VVD has held the most seats since the general elections of 2010. PVV holds the second most seats (20), followed by the centre-right Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) and the social-liberal, progressive centrists Democrats 66 (D66), both with 19 seats; the Socialist Party (SP) and the green liberal, centre-left progressive GreenLeft (GroenLinks) with 14 seats. GreenLeft has achieved its largest victory in history.

Then comes the Labour Party (PvdA), which suffered its biggest defeat in history. They ended up with not more than 9 seats, which is 29 seats less than in 2012. A popular reason for this defeat is that PvdA were punished for the outgoing government’s severe austerity policy, which it was a part of. The policy, characterised by huge cuts to health care, public service, the arts and culture sector, defence and immigration policy, was a result of the protracted economic recession in The Netherlands. It has been viewed by left-wing voters as counter to working-class values.

After the elections, The Netherlands was flooded with euphoric coverage by Western media. Right-wing populism had supposedly been defeated in The Netherlands. However, the media was wrong. Right-wing populism has not been defeated at all. In fact, it is one of the winners of these elections. Compared to the previous elections, PVV has gained 5 seats. Although they most likely will not become part of the coalition government, it still is the second largest party. Furthermore, PVV could become the largest opposition party. In other words, they could significantly influence the political decision-making process.

Formation of the government

VVD’s victory means that they have the right to form a new government. The formation is usually a complex and time-consuming process. During the elections, VVD  showed interest in collaborating with CDA and D66. After all, these parties share a common vision on important matters like economic affairs. Also, CDA and D66 have often voted in favour of VVD’s severe austerity measures during the previous government’s term. Furthermore, the three parties would need only one more party in order to obtain an absolute majority in both House of Representatives and Senate. Particularly in this respect, the formation is rather interesting.

In my view, there are two parties most likely to join a coalition with the three aforementioned parties. The first is GreenLeft. Although not all three parties are equally content with the possibility of GreenLeft as a coalition partner, there are ongoing negotiations with them right now. D66 would be more than happy to have GreenLeft joining the coalition, because they support progressive policy in the area of sustainable energy, climate change and the EU. VVD and CDA however, would not be so pleased to collaborate with them, because of the significant differences on major issues like climate change.

The second party, one I have not mentioned yet, is the Christian democratic, social-conservative Christian Union. They would be warmly welcomed by VVD and CDA, because it would benefit their pursuit of centre-right policy. To D66 however, it would be an eyesore. D66’s progressive view on issues like drug policy, prostitution, gay marriage, abortion and euthanasia is diametrically opposed to Christian Union’s conservative view on those issues. Furthermore, Christian Union does not have enough seats to put pressure on VVD and CDA in order to support D66.

Ultimately, it seems likely that Christian Union will become part of the coalition government. After all, they would benefit VVD and CDA more than GreenLeft would. However, in my opinion, VVD finds itself in quite a dilemma. Although VVD and GreenLeft have many major differences that need to be bridged in order to form a government, it could be worth for VVD to accept GreenLeft.

First of all, VVD would satisfy both D66 and many young voters that want to see things change. Furthermore, if VVD can make compromises with GreenLeft on a few major issues like climate change and sustainable energy, they can still implement a predominantly centre-right policy and satisfy their own constituency as well. This might reduce the risk of an unstable government and the risk of losing votes next elections.

On the other hand, VVD leader Mark Rutte will have to deal with CDA and an influential conservative constituency within his own party. Both will not tolerate a coalition in which the influence of the centre-right parties could be impaired. Both GreenLeft and D66 may hamper VVD’s and CDA’s intended centre-right policy.

VVD, CDA and D66 will likely form the next government. They are expected to be joined by either GreenLeft or Christian Union. At the present day, there are ongoing negotiations with GreenLeft, but it is far from certain whether those negotiations will result in a coalition agreement. The promptness of the formation depends largely on VVD’s readiness to make the decision. Will they accept Christian Union, so that they can implement a centre-right policy? Or will they face the challenge by accepting GreenLeft, which might impair the pursuit of a centre-right policy, but also benefit the government’s stability and VVD’s position in light of the next elections? As long as VVD does not make that choice, we will be kept in suspense.

 

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Society

Beyond Her Beauty

Beyond her Beauty (Rachelle Lee)
  With a crisp British accent, an aura of confident intelligence and a much-envied physique, Emma Watson is a darling
Society

What Ever Happened to the State of Journalism?

The Role of Journalism (Kim Tran)

 

Thanks to social media, we live in an age that is simultaneously the best and worst environment for journalism and reporting that there has ever been. We have access to countless sources of news that spring up instantly after global phenomenon, political debate and sporting achievements. All it takes is a few swipes of a finger and you can have a general knowledge about any known topic in existence. We are better informed than ever and yet we are also exposed to vindictive, biased journalism masquerading as truth. That isn’t even to mention the ‘fake news’ which is slowly saturating our Facebook feeds and has even infiltrated such administrations as the White House.

Journalism today is not typically based on objectivity, but rather is designed to catch and hold our attention and therefore sell its publication to us. In the same way little rewards hook us to games, or small cliffhangers keep us attached to our TV screens, journalism is twisting headlines to the flashy and scandalous in an attempt to draw us (and clicks) into a story we would otherwise ignore. Look no further then to recent U.S. election cycle to identify the media’s thirst for such drama. Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders both had their campaigns globally advertised, as media companies such as Fox News, CNN and BBC (just to name a select few), bit onto controversial information they knew would cause a stir and attempt to outdo other reporting stations. Every time Trump spoke he was belittled and laughed at by left-wing and central media factions as a racist and a fascist. When Bernie took to the podium, he was deemed a communist by right-wing and central parties, fueling the memory of terror that communism instilled in the twentieth century. However accurate these assessments may have been, these journalists collected every bit of drama they could find and often blew it into erroneous conjecture. Sanders’ planned health care reforms were not ‘revolutionary’ and Trump’s move to tax foreign imports weren’t always racially motivated, but that doesn’t matter because there is a story to sell and outrage as currency.

So desperate is the state of modern-day journalism to sell a story, journalists don’t always attempt to hide their motives in finding new angles. In February 2016, following a performance by Beyoncé at the Superbowl Halftime Show – journalist Alex Collins from the BBC asked on Twitter for someonewho [could] say that it was inappropriate that her performance was political.’ For the record, the ‘controversial performance’ of Beyoncé was of Formation which alluded to the Black Lives Matter movement and police brutality, and Collins, instead of asking for an array of opinions from the public over her performance, Collins obtained an angle he thought would entice readers and ignored an objective journalistic approach. It is a sad reality that journalism has become corrupted to the extent where the traditional method of reporting fact has been lost in favour of being able to sell drama and debate, but only look at the effect of social media and one can understand why.

You no longer need to work at leading media outlets to broadcast news. All too often, we are told about various world events from any random bystander who happened to be there. So where does that leave the journalist? They can’t be the first to report the story (someone else has done that) so they need to find a new angle and many are unscrupulous in how they manufacture it.

Now I enjoy news as much as any other, and I am almost solely reliant on social media and the internet for supplying world events and the occasional Married at First Sight update, but increasingly I am becoming more cynical over this system of contemporary journalism and reporting. After all, there is only so many times I can stomach walking into a full-blooded family dinner table debate armed to the hilt with what turns out to be misguided information and the spread of fake news. The system of journalism that we have is corrupted and flawed – but given the nature of our technological era – maybe that is just the reality we have to accept.

 

 

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Society

Nostalgia for Tradition

JC Tradition (John Henry)
Conservatives are fond of invoking the ‘Judeo-Christian tradition’ as the source of Australia’s liberal democratic principles, but it’s important to
Society

Music in the Shadow of Genocide

Music in the Shadow of Genocide

 

Dressed in formal black tails and a white shirt, the musician took his place. Taking a deep breath, he looked around himself, the light peaking in from the looming walls catching his watery eye. He took a bow and sat on the stool with his cello between his legs and let the soft melody of Albinoni’s Adagio in G Minor fill the air.

However, this renowned musician did not play in a concert hall. Nor did he look out at a captivated audience, a sight once so familiar. Vedran Smajlović sat in the ruins of Bosnia’s National library in Sarajevo where the day before, 22 people had died. Against the challenge of sniper bullets whirling around him, he played in the heart of sorrow.  

Smajlović was the principal cellist of the Sarajevo Opera and also played in the Sarajevo Philharmonic Orchestra, the Symphony Orchestra and the National Theatre of Sarajevo. However, in early 1992 following the breakup of the former Yugoslavia, life changed for everyone in the Balkans. The ethnic cleansing perpetrated by Serbian Nationalists entailed intimidation, forced expulsion and the killing of the Bosnian Muslim civilization. Houses and apartments across Bosnia were systematically ransacked or burnt down with civilians being rounded up into camps, beaten or killed in the process. The capital city of Bosnia, Sarajevo, was held under siege for 44 months, the longest siege in the history of modern warfare. The Serb forces situated themselves in the surrounding hills of Sarajevo, creating an inescapable ring and inflicting suffering on civilians to force the Bosnian authorities to succumb to Serb demands. The European city that had escaped two World Wars with only minor damage became more murderous by the day.

On May 27 1992, a mortar shell fell and killed 22 people who had queued up at one of the few remaining bakeries. Smajlović, who lived close to the bakery and assisted the wounded, was appalled by the disarray of body parts and rubble. Neither a politician nor a soldier, the sense of powerlessness that blanketed the city too began to exhaust the musician.  However, determined to reclaim the humanity in a city ravaged by brutality, Smajlović turned to his cello. For the next 22 days, his elegy echoed amidst the destruction, striking chords in the hearts of those listening that went beyond what language could. He played not only for each person killed, but for each person who had lost someone, or perhaps lost a bit of themselves in the banal terror. He continued even after commemorating these victims to play in graveyards, at funerals and at other sites where shells had taken the lives of Sarajevo’s citizens. Sniper fire persisted and mortars persistently rained down, but Smajlović continued to play and the people continued to gather and listen. In the daily ordeal of finding food and water amid enduring shelling, Smajlović’s music became a symbol of hope. His performances, whilst varying in shattered locations, remained constant throughout the siege.

Sarajevo became a skeleton of the thriving, accomplished city that it was. It became an unrecognizable wasteland of blasted mosques, museums, churches, hospitals, libraries and sports stadiums punctured by rockets and fractured in animosity. The unprecedented callousness of the war challenged the expectations of everyday life. Events and preoccupations of civilian existence, which appeared so compelling under ordinary circumstances, began to appear trivial when compared to the death and destruction that war brought. This abrupt loss of meaning was perilous. Yet, it was those like Smajlović who reached for an anchor amid the chaos, however small, that were able to carry themselves back to the stable, reasoned life that they led before. It is this hope that is created, however faint and hesitant, that reminds people of a treasured past and encourages faith in a future. If nothing else, it is a subtle way in which the citizens of Sarajevo reclaimed their humanity in a city which attempted to steal it away from them.

Smajlović once proclaimed, ‘You ask me am I crazy for playing the cello? Why do you not ask if they are crazy for shelling Sarajevo?’

If it is crazy to bring hope into a city engulfed in distress, to create a sense of harmony when division systematically fissures reality, and to encapsulate the suffering of people with a delicacy that words could not exude… then perhaps Smajlović’s crazy is what Sarajevo needed.

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