The Netherlands in a quandary as 28 parties take part in Dutch elections

A record 81 parties have expressed interest in taking part in the March 15 parliamentary election. Monday was the day they all had to hand in their paperwork.

Among the eclectic roster of potential players, there also is the Colorful Cow Party, which casts itself in part as an antidote to the fierce anti-Islam rhetoric of the Party for Freedom. Its website includes a recipe for a traditional Dutch mashed potato dish, prepared with Turkish sausages and Moroccan spices.

Tiny splinter parties that tap into the Netherlands’ long tradition of non-conformism could eat into the constituencies of the mainstream powerhouse parties of Liberal, Christian Democrat, anti-immigrant or Socialist bent.

The real match-up is likely to be between the ruling People’s Party of Freedom and Democracy — the party of two-time Prime Minister Mark Rutte — and the Party for Freedom fronted by firebrand Geert Wilders. But the tiny parties, if they manage to meet the electoral commission’s criteria, will make for a colorful campaign.

Plasman, a famous criminal defense lawyer, argues he wants to give non-voters a voice in Parliament. A quarter of the Dutch electorate didn’t vote in 2012, and Plasman says they would have taken 37 of the legislature’s 150 seats and been the biggest party if they had cast ballots as a unified bloc.

So now, he wants the non-voters to vote — for him. To honor their wishes, his party has a simple pledge: “We will never vote in parliament.”

Plasman’s Niet Stemmers (Not Voters) party underscores a growing unease, even disgust, with politics as usual in a nation where the election system leads almost automatically to multi-party coalition governments and convoluted compromise decisions are the order of the day.

“People want change. We need more influence on political matters,” Thierry Baudet of the pro-referendum Forum for Democracy party said. “Our voice is not being heard, so we want more referenda, more direct democracy.”

According to rules published by the electoral commission, parties must submit lists of candidates. If they are taking part in their first election or failed to win any seats last time around, they must pay a deposit of 11,250 euros and hand in declarations of support from each of the Netherlands’ 20 electoral districts.

That is easier said than done: one of the districts is the Caribbean island of Bonaire, located 8,000 kilometers away.

The official list of parties that qualified to take part in the election was announced Friday (February 3). ‘Only’ 28 parties have the final cut.

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