Quickly reopen the terraces, abolish curfew or offer more breathing space for shops? On paper it seems tempting for the demissionary cabinet to have the reins celebrated shortly before the parliamentary elections. But campaign experts say: easing suddenly could be counterproductive. They do not expect ‘coronacadeautjes’ in the coming weeks.
After more than a year of coronacrisis, the call for relaxation becomes stronger. Yesterday, President of the Security Council Hubert Bruls, on behalf of the mayors, advocated ‘perspective on easings’. From society there are alarming calls from entrepreneurs and campaigning politicians are attacking government policy in full.
This café in Amsterdam decided to open and had, according to AT5, engaged a number of lawyers in case enforcement would come by:
At the same time, parties present their views on coronameasures in campaigns. For example, one wants higher education to be reopened earlier and other parties advocate for a faster opening up of the hospitality industry.
Mark Thiessen of campaign office Meute, who worked for the VVD in the past, believes that the pandemic‘s influence on the election campaign is enormous. “If there were no coronavirus, it would now be a battle between two or three parties,” he says. Now the VVD in the polls is well ahead of the rest.
Campaign expert Justin Koornneef of bureau BKB sees a “strategic chess game” among parties, who constantly weigh and weigh on what they want to radiate. “Because I think voters are really looking beyond the next few weeks,” he says. “So do not relax flat. They ask themselves more: will I be back on the plane in a year?”
These different visions on how to navigate in the crisis also lead to resentment between coalition partners in campaign times, appeared on Sunday in the RTL election debate. D66 leader Kaag argued in favour of mass deployment of rapid testing. It gave her a sneer from CDA leader Hoekstra: “That is not your plan, which we discussed in the Council of Ministers a week and a half ago.”
No problems with double caps
Today, cabinet members met in consultation with the MCC, the Special Ministerial Commission for Crisis Management. The meeting ran out for almost an hour. There was a lot of discussion about simplifications and measures, Hoekstra said afterwards. “I understand very well the frustration of entrepreneurs. However, not everything we, what I would like, in the very short term, can not be done,” he said.
He also emphasised that he is the same person as a demissionary minister of finance and the CDA leader, so that, according to him, there are no problems when he talks about coronation policy. As a demissionary minister, Kaag also said not to find this dual role difficult, because she said she always stood for a broadening of the corona approach. “And then at some point you sometimes come to different choices.”
Dismissionary Minister Hugo de Jonge (Public Health) understands that his cabinet colleagues are trying to outline “perspective” in their campaigns, despite the gloomy epidemiological picture outlined by RIVM today. “The election campaign focuses on what the Netherlands looks like after the crisis. That’s perspective. Furthermore, we have been discussing measures in the Council of Ministers for a year. That makes sense.”
Based on last week‘s infection rates, the RIVM may well see the beginning of the third wave:
Demissionary Prime Minister Rutte held himself aloof today in the easing discussion. Political scientist Simon Otjes, affiliated with Leiden University, understands that. “What motivates parties now is that most voters still support the policy,” he explains. “People who do not have their own business are less critical about it and the broader middle group that appeals to the VVD is very happy with Rutte as a strict father. For Rutte, the current strategy is therefore fine: almost no campaign. He is the largest party, as the great leader of the country.”
Campaign strategist Mark Thiessen endorses those words. According to him, Rutte as a “corona boss” can mainly lose to himself. Next Monday, the final press conference on the coronacrisis before the elections will be on the agenda. To ease the rules suddenly with ‘presents‘ would be “very transparent” according to him.
“ That press conference will always be interpreted as electoral gain. Whether or not he opens the terraces. But that is a reason for him not to care about it,” says Thiessen. Political reporter Ron Fresen also says that Rutte’s credibility would only be “seriously affected” if he suddenly reopened the terraces in case of poor contamination rates.
Campaign expert Koornneef explains that Rutte as a leader in crisis times has the advantage in any case. “Because I cansuggest that it is frustrating for other parties that he should be allowed to stand there. There is no election debate against such a press conference.”