The parliamentary elections and the subsequent government formation once again reveal the fragility of our trust in democracy. Information leaks and the seemingly poor memory of ministers have shaken our confidence in the political system, says Associate Professor of Political Science Maurits Meijers (Radboud University). 'Democracy has taken a hit.'“Let me start by saying that Dutch democracy functions well,” says Meijers. “Elections are conducted with care and electoral fraud is virtually non-existent.” Yet he does see two factors that created an uneven playing field during the campaign. “The first is unequal media coverage. Male candidates received more press attention than female candidates. For example, JA21 was more prominent than Volt, despite both parties receiving the same number of seats. Most of the media coverage, however, was focused on Prime Minister Rutte.”The second factor is that there are no clear rules governing electoral donations. “Partij voor de Dieren and D66 received massive donations, while GroenLinks had to make due with small member donations. This has an indirect effect on the amount of exposure. I didn't research this, but I get the impression that parties used to limit themselves to the broadcasting timeslots reserved specifically for politics but are now buying extra time in commercial breaks. Budget differences create an uneven playing field.”DistrustAnd then there are the formation difficulties prompted by scouts leaving prematurely following a leak of confidential information about CDA member Pieter Omtzigt. Meijers understands that accidents can happen. “But that everyone involved denies any talk of a ‘position elsewhere’ for Omtzigt is certainly noteworthy. Generally speaking, those in power should be viewed with some degree of distrust. As citizens, we should be critical of how that power is used. The rather obvious untruths being brought to light are detrimental to democracy. The damage is even greater because so many different parties are involved.”This touches on a fundamental point: the credibility of politicians. “Citizens elect representatives and expect their actions to reflect their party programme and their election promises,” explains Meijers. “If they don’t, people may start to question this form of representation and wonder whether – as PVV and FvD have proposed – a more direct connection between the people and political leadership should be pursued. The drama surrounding the election of a Speaker of the House has sowed even more seeds of distrust. All of these little things combined start to erode citizens’ confidence in politics.”StatementWith respect to Omtzigt, there is another element at play. Because of his role in the benefits affair, Meijers believes Omtzigt has come to represent ‘executive control’. “The open proposal to make him part of the executive branch via a ministerial post is remarkable. It suggests that those involved didn’t realise how problematic this is or didn't care. This, too, is harmful to democracy.”The key question now is how to proceed from here. “The collective political memory tends to be quite short,” says Meijers. “And if the pandemic demands it, people may push their integrity concerns aside. A protracted crisis is another possibility. If Rutte fails to regain public trust and refuses to step down, there will be a stalemate and new elections may be held. This once again reveals the fragility of democracy and the importance of credibility and trust. It doesn't signal the end of democracy, but it does show that democracy has taken a hit.”Profit without loss is about responsible governance which aims for a sustainable society. Research and education at the Nijmegen School of Management has a specific focus on solving issues at large in society. Want to know more? Visit our website for more information about our themes.