Thursday 25 February 2021

OMT members voice fears about holding general election in March


Members of the government’s Outbreak Management Team have voiced their concerns about whether next month’s Dutch elections can go ahead safely.

Several OMT members told NRC that the risks associated with voting should be properly assessed and, if necessary, the vote on March 17 should be postponed.

‘There are risks, we need to quantify them,’ microbiologist Jan Kluytmans said. Diederik Gommers, head of the national intensive care association, told the newspaper: ‘The RIVM’s modelling doesn’t even consider the effect of the elections. We are concerned about whether we can continue to provide care in the ICUs.’

Prime minister Mark Rutte said last Friday that the decision to go ahead with the elections could be reviewed ‘if it is necessary for epidemiological reasons.’

But home affairs minister Kajsa Ollongren told Nieuwsuur this week that there was ‘no need’ to move the vote to later in the year. ‘Corona-proofing’ measures have been taken, such as opening some polling stations two days early, allowing people over 70 to vote by post and installing one-way systems and plastic screens.

‘We can’t give a 100% guarantee, but we’re doing everything we can,’ she said. ‘We have national elections once every four years; it’s an important part of our democracy. It’s not something you should decide to put off lightly.’

Third wave ‘inevitable’

Five mayors told NRC earlier this week that they would prefer to have the elections postponed until the summer. ‘If the ministry were to ask all mayors if they think it’s a good idea to let the elections go ahead, I think the result would be 50/50,’ said Frank Streng, VVD mayor of Medemblik.

The RIVM has warned that a third wave of coronavirus is inevitable as new variants, such as those first detected in the UK and South Africa, gain ground. They predict that infections will probably rise during March, increasing demand on hospitals and intensive care beds into April.

There is also concern that the pandemic could have an impact on elector turnout, particularly if cases are rising. Turnout in French municipal elections last March plunged to a historic low of 45.5%, compared to 63.5% in 2014.

The postal voting rule was brought in after research indicated that 10% of Dutch people over the age of 70 were considering not voting because they were worried about catching the virus.

That decision is being challenged in court on Wednesday by the Animal Rights Party (PvdD), which wants all voters to have the chance to cast their ballot by post. The party argues that the age limit discriminates against younger people with health issues or disabilities that put them at higher risk.

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