The expat dilemma: voting from abroad

With Erdogan and his referendum campaign creating headlines all over the world, one would almost forget that a political event of note also took place in the Netherlands. This month, the Netherlands voted for a new parliament, an event I had been looking forward with both hope and anxiety. On the one hand it was a chance to get someone new in power, on the other hand there was a real chance that we would be trading what was familiar for something far worse and dangerous. To quickly summarize the election results: the latter did not happen, but neither did we get the change I had hoped for. Mixed feelings really.

I am 28 years old, and I’ve been allowed to vote in three parliamentary elections: in 2010, 2012 and now in 2017. And although I have lived in the Netherlands for at least half of the years between 2010 and 2017, I have never actually voted in a major election in person. In 2010 I was volunteering in Tunisia, during the 2012 elections I studied in Istanbul, and now I am living in Germany. During my previous two stays abroad I was absolutely certain that I was going to return home within four years, making voting pretty much essential. This time though, I am not so sure anymore when I will be returning home. It can be next year, but it can also be after the next parliamentary elections. Which makes you wonder, what right do you have to vote really if you won’t be the one suffering from bad politics or new taxes – not now, and maybe not in the future either?

If Jesse Klaver succeeds in inplementing road pricing, I won’t be the one paying for it. If his tax on meat goes through parliament, my wallet will not be affected. I won’t have to break my head over whether education or health care should get more money, or whether defense is more important than the police or security in the neighbourhoods. It is not my education, nor my health or neighbourhood that is at stake here. Only defense is somewhat crucial: without an army I might not have a country to return to in four years time! In many ways I am today much more affected by German politics, and it’s German politics and not Dutch politics that influence my daily life. If there was road tax here, I’d have to pay it. If the taxes on meat increased here, I would pay them. Yet I am not allowed to vote in Germany for the next 5.5 years or so, and I get to decide about the lives of those in the Netherlands who have to deal with the outcome of my vote on a daily basis – whether or not they themselves had the right to vote. There is a strange paradox in that.

A lot of Dutchies abroad have decided not to vote any longer, for exactly these reasons. Not me, as I have no idea when I’m going to move back home. For all I know, my time in Germany and my time abroad could come to an end within a year. And if I return home, do I want to be faced with a coalition government of Geert Wilders with Rutte’s liberal party and Buma’s Christian democratic party, or any of the other government options that include everything I am against? Of course not! The decisions that are being made do not just determine the course for my home country in the next four year, it is more than that. It could have been the beginning of a real change. That’s why I voted, despite not living in the Netherlands anymore. Alas, it seems like we’ll be getting four more years of the same old stuff.

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