Campaigns temporarily suspended

Last Wednesday a plane crash near Tripoli, Libya, killed about 70 Dutch, with one boy miraculously surviving. This caused a big shock; not least because the sleaziest newspaper in the country, VVD-supporting De Telegraaf, conducted an interview with the surviving boy during which, it is said, they told him his parents and brother had all died.

In reaction most political parties temporarily suspended their campaigns. Not that the campaigns have started in earnest yet, but several party leaders were slated to appear at rallies throughout the country, and a radio debate was scheduled for today. These have all been cancelled.

Personally I’ve never understood this kind of reaction. Sure, some form of national mourning might be in order, but those that lost loved ones in the crash will hardly notice politicians not talking to them for a little while because they’re too busy handling their loss. And people not directly involved with the disaster do still want to know about the plans and programmes of the various parties.

But still, this is considered the proper way of doing things in Dutch politics, and resistance is futile. As far as I understand the campaigns will resume on Monday.

The most famous occurrence of a suspension of campaigns was in 2002, when Pim Fortuyn was murdered scant days before the elections. Then the suspension actually made sense: Fortuyn’s LPF was now leaderless and was supposed to be unable to defend itself in the political fray. This murder was aimed at the heart of Dutch democracy, and besides the last political murder in the country took place 330 years earlier.

Famously, the LPF more-or-less continued its campaign by pointing out the lack of proper security time and again, and some political scientists think that the murder may have actually netted them quite a few votes extra — the so-called “votes of condolence.”

In the end it didn’t help the LPF — pretty soon the party was rife with arguments, including a full-fledged row between their two most senior ministers. The Balkenende I government in which the LPF participated sat for only 86 days, after which new elections were called and the LPF lost 18 of its 26 seats.

Such drama is not to be expected this time; the campaigns will restart and the crash will be all-but-forgotten when the elections arrive.

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This is the political blog of Peter-Paul Koch, mobile platform strategist, consultant, and trainer, in Amsterdam. It’s a hobby blog where he follows Dutch politics for the benefit of those twelve foreigners that are interested in such matters, as well as his Dutch readers.

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Comments (closed)

1 Posted by Abi Sutherland on 16 May 2010 | Permalink

Well, of course I don't understand Dutch practice, but one argument about suspending politics is to underline that the campaign is not the most important thing in the country. I'm American by birth and upbringing; I can tell you that letting politics become overwhelmingly important leads to some pretty icky behavior.

In other words, maybe it's not to protect the sensitivities of the bereaved, but rather to puncture the egos of the politicians.

2 Posted by ppk on 17 May 2010 | Permalink

Hm, I never quite thought of it like that. Maybe you're right!

3 Posted by Frans on 18 May 2010 | Permalink

A reminder that the politicians shouldn't get too caught up with themselves, eh? That's certainly a nice way of looking at it.