Dutch MP candidates promise not to do their job
By Peter Teffer
When you pass Peter Plasman's law firm in the Dutch capital Amsterdam, you would not know that he is standing for election on 15 March.
There are no posters on the office's windows, or political slogans.
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That's because Plasman promises to be a different kind of member of the lower house of the Dutch parliament: one who never shows up.
“Many people's first response was: is this a joke?” Plasman told EUobserver on Wednesday (1 March).
But Plasman is serious: if he gets elected, his only promise is that his seat will remain empty and he will never participate in debates or votes on bills.
Plasman said his group, Niet Stemmers (Non-Voters), is not a political party, because it has no programme.
Niet Stemmers was born out of a personal frustration, when Plasman realised there was not a single party he would vote for, but that he had no way of expressing that feeling.
“If you don't vote, or if you vote null, or cast an invalid vote, you still confirm the outcome of what others have decided,” said Plasman.
Since 2008, those who vote null, by not writing anything on the ballot, are counted separately from invalid votes.
17,004 people voted null in the previous lower house election in 2012, some 0.13 percent of the overall vote.
“The null voter goes to the poll to consciously not make a choice,” said Plasman. Someone like that takes the effort to go out and vote.
Null votes are included in the count to determine voter turnout, but the 150 seats are still divided.
Plasman wants to give voters an option to vote for an empty seat, which would serve as a constant reminder to the political parties that not everyone feels represented.
In 2012, 1 in 4 eligible voters did not show up. Plasman hoped that he could convince people, who initially did not want to vote, now to vote for Niet Stemmers.
“This way, your protest becomes visible. We are a collection of people that say: things have to change, but we say it in a reasonably harmless way.”
“What we do could become a movement of people that say: things are not going well in politics, we want to do something about it, but what we don't want to do is join the shouting and cackle,” the lawyer said.
“Everybody seems to agree that something needs to change,” he added.
Polls have not yet shown Niet Stemmers, which has twelve candidates, achieving enough support to pass the threshold, but Plasman said he believed the potential is out there.
“We depend on people who think this is a good idea and help spread the word. That is starting to happen,” he said, noting that the group's website attracted between 1,000 and 2,000 visitors per day.
While Niet Stemmers has produced some flyers and posters, the main forum to spread the word is the social networking website - Facebook.
The exercise is a repeat of Plasman's attempt in 1994, when he stood for elections for the municipal council of Amsterdam with the same idea of promising never to vote on bills.
He received 926 votes.
“That was a huge success, considering that we campaigned for just three days,” he said. There were three locations in the city where they had stuck posters, and it was in those areas where most of the votes came from.
So why not have posters all over the country?
“Because we don't have the means for that. We have nothing. All we have is an idea that we think is very powerful.”
If Plasman is elected, he would go to the lower house just once, to take the oath.
“That will be the first and last time,” he said. “Nobody can force me to sit on that chair.”