by Gan Chun, Liu Fang
THE HAGUE, March 3 (Xinhua) -- With the parliamentary election in the Netherlands coming up in less than two weeks, millions of Dutch citizens are looking to online voting tests for clues as to who is the most deserving of their vote.
Over three millions people have taken the most popular online quiz known as Stemwijzer, or Vote Indicator, since it was launched on February 6, Eddy Habben Jansen, executive director of ProDemos, the organisation behind the platform, told Xinhua in an interview on Thursday.
This is already a pretty large figure given that a total of 12.9 million people are eligible to vote on March 15 to elect a new lower house of parliament, but Jansen foresees a big surge in the number of participants in the final run-up to the election, even on the polling day.
"Many people do the test on the voting day. It has been the same for 15 years," said Jansen. "There are people who say 'I see the ballot sheet and I make my final decision.'"
He anticipated that over six million voters would take the Stemwijzer test this year, setting a new record for various voting guides in the country, roughly one million more than the last election season in 2012.
HOW IT WORKS
Housed in an office building overlooking the Binnenhof, the heart of Dutch politics in The Hague, ProDemos is an organisation that has been operating pre-elections guides for 25 years, funded by both the Dutch Interior Ministry and the parliament.
The online version of Stemwijzer was first launched in 1998, replacing the traditional printed questionnaires, and truly became a success in 2002, when around two million people did the test before the elections.
The current quiz consists of 30 questions that cover a wide range of policies, including immigration, jobs, education, tax and retirement age, to which the participants can answer by simply choosing among "agree," "disagree," or "neither."
Upon completion of the quiz, participants are given an individual analysis of their match by percentage with all the political parties running in the elections, based on how close their responses are to the political stances of these parties.
Jansen said that the questions had been agreed upon by the 28 parties running in the elections, adding that all the party leaders publicly took the quiz at the launching event.
The Stemwijzer system has been exported to several other countries including Germany, Bulgaria, he noted.
Young people and those changing from one party to another make up a large group of the quiz takers, while the proportion of older, more traditional people is comparatively small, according to Jansen.
"It is people looking for information," he said. "You are not automatically born with the information. We need to do that for every generation."
However, he does not recommend people to use Stemwijzer as the only tool for gathering information before they go to the polls, instead they should also "watch television debates and talk to their neighbours."
BEHIND THE SURGE
The election in the Netherlands is the first of a series of key elections in Europe this year, followed by those in France and Germany.
With the far-right and populist candidates gaining popularity in these three major members of the European Union, the outcome of this election could have substantial impacts on the future of the bloc.
In addition to the intricate domestic and international contexts, the diverse political landscape of the Netherlands also contribute to the increasing usage of online voting guides.
"Many people are no longer voting for the same party every time like 20 or 30 years ago when we had closer relations between parties and specific groups of the society. Traditional parties used to have strong basis in their groups," Jansen explained.
Nowadays Dutch voters tend to look at programmes more than at the basic principals of the parties, which makes them more cautious and really think about which party to vote for, he added.
The candidate who makes the most headlines this year is with no doubt Geert Wilders of the right-wing Party for Freedom (PVV), who has been riding high in the polls and are in a neck-and-neck battle with current Prime Minister Mark Rutte from the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD).
Although Wilders fell behind Rutte in Wednesday's polls, for the first time in months, the Netherlands is experiencing the rise of populism regardless of the election results.
Jansen believes that a part of the voters for PVV see voting for the party as a strong signal of their worries and concerns. "Maybe they don't think PVV will solve their problems. They are sending a strong signal as a wake-up call, a warning. It is important that politicians understand what the concerns are and listen to their problems."
"These are all sentiments, but they cannot be ignored," he said.