The day of small things

International | Small Christian political parties make some headway in the Dutch elections

Issue: "The Dutch culture of death," May 23, 1998

in The Hague - Give it to the Dutch. They still prefer horticulture to Hollywood, bicycle paths to fast lanes, and demitasse coffee to the Starbucks-style caffeine wallops Americans have come to crave. But election eve in The Hague, Holland's seat of government, is dishearteningly similar to the endless round of sublime, media-saturated ritual accompanying national elections in Washington. Party loyalists cluster in noisy reception areas to watch televised returns over endless trays of pre-poured wine and warmed-over finger food. The country's leading television networks and radio personalities set up elaborate mezzanine booths in what is known locally as the "second chamber," the meeting hall of Holland's lower house of the States-General, or parliament. From there, the media parades numbing panels of experts to provide flash forecasts on what the political future shall hold. No seismic equations were needed after national parliamentary elections May 6. The country's main liberal party, the Social Democrats, kept a lead in the polls and will return party chief Wim Kok as prime minister. The Labor Party, another liberal party, scored big gains and will likely lead a coalition government with Mr. Kok. Both Christian Democrats (CDA) and the socialist D66 Party took hits and lost seats. Kees vander Graaf, a journalist who works with an emerging evangelical radio network known as EO, noted that CDA's decline (a trend since 1989, even though CDA was the ruling party until 1994) has paralleled its growing secularization. "It has a lot to do with giving up their identity, with losing the 'C' from Christianity," he said. Party membership in parliament over the last two elections has included one Muslim and one Hindu. Party leaders defend their inclusion, saying that members may have other religious beliefs as long as they adhere to the party's "charter." The party in 1993 also brokered a parliamentary compromise that over the past five years has allowed euthanasia to continue even though it remains technically illegal. "We try to make the law so broad that everybody fits in," said Mr. vander Graaf. "The problem in the Christian community is that too many people are scared of chasing others away." Lost in the post-election poses was the steady showing of three emerging Christian right parties. Out of a dizzying field of 22 parties (voters are offered a magnifying glass when they step up to the booth), nine parties will actually hold seats in the new parliament. Three of those will be the Christian right groups, who gained enough votes to seat eight members altogether in the body. In a multi-partied body of 150, even those votes will count. Dividing the three parties are old theological scores. One of the parties, known in Holland as the Constitutional Reformed Party (SGP), for instance, does not believe women should hold public office. Uniting them is outrage over Holland's infamous social experimentation-tolerance of drug use, pornography, prostitution, and euthanasia. They also share growing frustration with the Christian Democrats, the older but not necessarily wiser brother party that historically upheld biblical principles on social issues but now accommodates the culture. The Dutch press has not caught on to the determination of the Christian right parties. The CDA held its election eve festivities under the full glare of news cameras at the venerable Pulchri Studio, a 19th-century art school, within walking distance of The Hague. In contrast, the Reformed Political Federation (RPF), which attracts evangelical and charismatic believers, gathered on election eve at a roadside restaurant outside of town. It drew no press coverage (save one American journalist) in spite of returns that surpassed the projections of two pollsters. Andre Rouvoet, an RPF member of parliament, is not longing for CDA's popularity. Much. "I consider it a luxurious position that alongside the CDA, there is room for three outspoken Christian parties in the parliament," he told WORLD. His party does not want to be identified with the kind of accommodation that has CDA losing respect (and voters). "We used to be considered 'small right.' I don't want to be called left or right; just call us the Christian party." RPF's slogan also makes the point. "Citizens of heaven ... in the world," its brochures proclaim. The Christian Democrats' campaign motto, which blanketed tram stops all over Holland, was, "Together you are never alone." Mr. Rouvoet said his party opposed the last round of legislation on euthanasia. That plan kept euthanasia technically illegal, while giving doctors a regulated procedure to follow in the event they did perform euthanasia. If followed, the procedure protects doctors from prosecution. "We opposed that," said Mr. Rouvoet, "and for this viewpoint, we are laughed at." Mr. Rouvoet was also ridiculed for quoting his favorite American evangelical writer, Charles Colson, in the debate: "The question is not whether we legislate morality but whose morality we legislate." Now the parties that be in parliament want to decriminalize euthanasia further. "The view that supports euthanasia is deeply rooted in public opinion to the idea that people should have rule over their own lives," said Mr. Rouvoet. "On that premise, then, they'll even accept that mistakes are being made. Why are we so convinced of our moral rights? Why are we so proud of being ahead on this issue?" he wonders. "I am a little embarrassed." In spite of his unpopular views, last year Mr. Rouvoet's RPF colleague, Gert Schutte, was voted the most popular member of parliament by his peers.

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