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Dutch deputy prime minister quits politics due to death threats

Sigrid Kaag, leader of the left-liberal D66 party, also complained that she has been the target of misogynistic attitudes in a tense political climate that frustrated her work

Sigrid Kaag
D66 party leader Sigrid Kaag announces that she is leaving politics in The Hague, the Netherlands, on July 13, 2023.REMKO DE WAAL (EFE)

Dutch Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Sigrid Kaag is leaving politics. She is doing so, she said Thursday, because of the death threats she has received. “My work puts a strain on my family and takes its toll,” admitted the leader of the left-liberal D66 formation, who had been weighing her future for several months. “I don’t want to ask them to go through this again. They are my rock,” Kaag, 61, said in reference to the early elections to be held in November following the resignation last week of the government headed by Mark Rutte, who is also stepping down.

The D66 leader burst onto the political scene in the Netherlands in 2017 as a rising star who was thought to have had the potential become head of the government. However, she has since lost steam, in part due to the somewhat distant image she projects. Kaag assumed that she had to win over her compatriots, who considered her an unknown. What she did not expect were the tight security measures that have accompanied her due to the threats she has received and the hate messages against her on social networks. The politician will remain in place until the next election.

Kaag’s decision has not come as a surprise, but it has caused uproar among her colleagues and political rivals because of the social tension and polarization that the harassment reveals. Jan Paternotte, president of D66, has been blunt: “The garbage and threats that Sigrid Kaag has had to endure damage our democracy. We will never accept it,” he wrote on his Twitter account. Rutte, the outgoing prime minister who last Friday forced the fall of the government over the cut to family reunification of war refugees, has praised his colleague’s “courage” and her “good cooperation and unwavering commitment” to the country. But he also felt that Kaag “has had to pay a heavy price in her private life.”

The rest of her colleagues, inside and outside the opposition, have unanimously condemned the intimidation that has shaken Kaag’s family to the foundations. The far-right leader Geert Wilders, who has repeatedly called her a “witch” in the framework of his speeches, has reiterated that he is moving on despite living through similar situations. Wilders has been under protection for two decades because of his outspoken rejection of Islam. Rutte’s security and that of Crown Princess Amalia of Orange has also been tightened, in her case due to threats from organized crime.

The outgoing deputy prime minister is married to Palestinian Anis al-Qaq, a dentist by profession who worked in the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation. They have four children betwe

The effect of that incident was evident on May 28, when Kaag ended up in tears en the ages of 18 and 25. In January 2022, a man carrying a lit torch stood in front of the family’s home shouting slogans against them while broadcasting his activity live on the internet. The suspect was arrested and sentenced to five months in prison. A restraining order was also imposed on him, but Dutch media report that he has been seen near the Parliament building in The Hague.during a television program after her two daughters said they were concerned for her safety. They feared the political leader would end up “like Els Borst,” they claimed, in reference to the health minister murdered in 2014 by a man with mental health issues.

In Kaag’s case there has been racism as well as misogyny. Born in the city of Rijswijk, about six kilometers (four miles) from The Hague, where she now resides, her diplomatic work has taken her to countries such as Lebanon, Sudan, and Syria. She has worked for the United Nations in important positions related to refugees, migration, and development, and coordinated the joint UN and Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW-UN) mission to eliminate the Syrian chemical arsenal. For the most part, her service record has been ignored by her Dutch compatriots, a portion of whom see her as an outsider (she returned from abroad in 2017), whose olive-skinned family was also raised abroad. In an interview with this newspaper last June, Kaag said of her situation: “We live in a very polarized political climate, hijacked by radical right-wing extremist groups. It is a threat to democracy that we must take very seriously.”

According to a 2021 study by Utrecht University and the Dutch magazine De Groene Amsterdammer, Kaag is the MP who receives the most hate messages in the Dutch Parliament: an average of 22% compared to 10% for her female colleagues.

This Thursday, in her farewell, Kaag hoped that her decision “does not discourage Dutch girls and women from entering politics, which should be a team effort.”

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