Saturday

16th Feb 2019

Yes or No? Rain could influence Dutch vote on Ukraine

  • "Vote here". In Amsterdam, one polling station is set up in a youth club. (Photo: Peter Teffer)

It has become a common sight in some of Europe's public places: a piano made available for anyone who wants to play it.

The Dutch railway company NS has placed a black one in the central hall of Amsterdam's main train station, and amateur musicians frequently accept the invitation written in white that says “play me.”

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  • Only two political parties used the opportunity to hang up posters campaigning for the referendum (Photo: Peter Teffer)

On Wednesday (6 April) morning, it was being played by Markiyan Matsekh, from Ukraine. During the Maidan demonstrations in Ukraine in 2013, it was Matsekh who played a piano in front of riot police, in a protest captured by a now famous photo.

It is the final leg of a tour he did in the Netherlands to convince voters to approve the EU-Ukraine association agreement, which is being put to the test in a non-binding, citizens-enforced referendum.

While Matsekh played, campaigners of the Yes camp handed out white T-shirts to passers-by. The T-shirts, worn also by the activists themselves, featured a simple text: “6 April. Vote Yes”, as well as the website address of the foundation Stem voor Nederland (Vote for the Netherlands), whose treasurer recently spoke to EUobserver in an interview.

The foundation's campaign manager, Laila Frank, told EUobserver that the 100 T-shirts they had made were gone within half an hour.

“There are still a lot of undecided voters, so this may be the push some of them need,” said Frank.

Opinion polls ahead of the vote gave the No side a lead, but showed around a third of voters had still not made up their mind.

Other than the T-shirt and piano event, Frank said the foundation did not have much else planned for the day. “Prepare for tonight,” she noted, referring to an election-style results evening her group will hold in an Amsterdam cafe.

“No matter the outcome, we will require dancing and drinking,” said Frank.

Yes to support Ukraine's youth

Later on Wednesday morning, at a train station in the western part of the city, Govert van de Linden cast a Yes vote.

When eurosceptic citizens' groups gathered sufficient signatures to force a vote on the EU-Ukraine treaty, Van de Linden immediately knew he would want to vote Yes.

“I want to show my support to all those young people in Ukraine,” he told this website, noting that while on holiday in Ukraine he had gotten to know some of them as “very nice people”.

He said he thought the No camp was “cynical” and “egocentric”.

No out of distrust

But one of those No voters, elsewhere in Amsterdam, said she had nothing against Ukrainian people.

“I don't mind supporting Ukraine, but not like this,” said Sandra, a civil servant. She was afraid, like many in the No camp argue, that the treaty will lead to Ukraine’s membership of the EU.

“I don't trust politicians,” she said.

Looking back at the introduction of the euro, she said that despite reassurances to the contrary, prices went up after the single currency replaced the guilder in 2002.

Voter turnout crucial

While the outcome of the vote - Yes or No - will be the main news tonight, the percentage of voter turnout will be just as important.

If the No vote wins the government will be obliged to review its decision to approve the EU-Ukraine deal.

It can still decide to uphold the decision. But if fewer than 30 percent of the electorate show up to cast their ballots the Yes side will win by default because the referendum will be invalid.

This leaves some voters with a conundrum. Those that are against referendums in general, or dislike the groups that triggered the vote, may want to go to a polling station only if they expect the 30 percent threshold to be reached.

State broadcaster NOS had decided not to give updates on the national aggregated voter turnout, as it usually does for other elections. NOS decided not to because it said that could influence the process - although critics say the move not to publish them may have the same effect.

The four largest cities did publish updates on voter turnout: around 5:45pm, Amsterdam stood at 13.7 percent. At 7:45pm Utrecht reported 27.1 percent, while at 8pm Rotterdam noted a turnout of 22.4 percent.

Polls will close at 9PM. An exit poll is expected shortly afterward.

Sandra said she thought the 30 percent threshold for the referendum to be valid, would be reached.

But as Sandra was talking, something happened that may affect voter turnout more than the arguments given by the Yes and No sides in the past weeks: it started to rain.

For those who care little about the agreement, or even the EU, bad weather may be a convincing deterrent.

The Dutch rooting for a No in the Ukraine referendum

Next week, the Dutch will cast their opinion on the EU-Ukraine association agreement. While the Yes side is fairly uniform in its composition and logic, the No side is a motley crew. Who are they?

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