Celebrating 100 years of universal suffrage in the Ridderzaal
On Friday 17 May 2019, the House of Representatives celebrated the centenary of universal suffrage in the Netherlands in the presence of His Majesty King Willem-Alexander and Her Majesty Queen Máxima. In addition to members of both houses of Parliament, the festive gathering at the Ridderzaal, the “Hall of Knights” at the parliamentary complex in The Hague, was also attended by people from all over the country with a special involvement with elections and electoral law.
Under the title I Vote For, the programme included a series of musical performances and personal stories by people from around the country. In her keynote speech, the President of the House, Khadija Arib, discussed her ideas on the topic of universal suffrage.
“We do not always realise how special it is that we can decide for ourselves who represents us in Parliament, on the local council, in the provincial assembly and in the European Parliament,” she said. “That we take that for granted is an achievement in itself.” In the Netherlands, the President continued, we have the opportunity to participate in the democratic process. We are involved in what is happening, and can speak out. We have a voice in how our country is governed.” And when all those voices come together, all those votes, they can bring about real change.”
Alongside performances, stories and film footages portraying the history and meaning of universal suffrage, the celebration also reflected upon its significance in this day and age. The motto “I vote for” was a common thread throughout the programme.
The gathering was held in the presence of the King and Queen. In addition to parliamentarians, the Ridderzaal was also filled with guests from every Dutch province, many of whom are involved with the electoral process in some way. They ranged from young people entitled to vote for the first time this year to volunteers who have been staffing polling stations for decades.
Peter van Haaften, 71, a retired fruit grower from Est in the Betuwe region, was invited because he has been helping out at the polling station in his local village hall for the past 15 years. With great pleasure, he says, because “you see everyone in the village.” He enjoyed the celebration. “Wasn’t that great? Not something I’ll ever experience again!” Lisanne Boon and Willemien de Jong from Wassenaar were also present. They are both 18 and were able to vote for the first time in this year’s provincial elections. They did not come particularly for the royal couple, because “we also saw them just recently at the shops”. Lisanne and Willemien consider the centenary of universal suffrage an important landmark, which is why they were in the Ridderzaal.
Jeannet and Rob Staakman always vote, and received their invitation after visiting the exhibition at the House of Representatives on the centenary. And 31 students from the Lindecollege in Wolvega were particularly lucky: they were supposed to be taking a standard tour of the parliamentary complex, but instead found themselves invited to sit in on the celebration. “Much more fun,” commented one of them, Renske, “because this only happens once every 100 years!”
The celebration on 17 May marked an important moment in the parliamentary history of the Netherlands. Nowadays, most people take it for granted that they can go to the polls once every four years. But that entitlement was hard won. In 1917 all adult men were granted the right to vote and women could be elected to the House of Representatives. But true universal suffrage only came in 1919, when the “active” franchise was extended to women as well. Since then, too, a lot has changed. In 1948 universal suffrage was introduced in Surinam and the Netherlands Antilles. In 1956 the House of Representatives was expanded from 100 members to 150. And the minimum voting age was gradually decreased over the years, reaching 18 years in 1972.
I am celebrating my vote
The House of Representatives is celebrating 100 years of universal suffrage throughout this year with a series of activities designed to highlight the value of our parliamentary democracy, in which everyone's vote counts equally, to the widest possible audience. Find out more at www.ikviermijnstem.nl.