Parliamentarian Leonie Vestering announced on Tuesday that she is resigning as a member of the Tweede Kamer for the animal rights party PvdD due to ongoing conflicts within the party. The board of the PvdD is currently embroiled in a serious dispute with party leader Esther Ouwehand concerning the internal governance and strategic direction of the party.
During a debate in the Tweede Kamer, the lower house of the Dutch parliament, Vestering expressed her continued desire to advocate for animal rights but remarked, “under these working conditions, I can no longer do so. Therefore, I have decided to resign from my position as a Member of Parliament.”
“I stick to my ideals, and those are with the fight for animals. That’s where I want to give all my attention and my priority,” she said. “I can also represent the best interests of animals in other places. And so I will continue to do that,” she added.
This resignation occurred amid a growing internal crisis within her party, which escalated on Saturday when the board of the party decided not to re-nominate Esther Ouwehand as party leader. This move followed “several” reports of possible integrity violations, party chairman Ruud van der Velden reported without disclosing more detail about the nature of these violations.
Defying the board’s decision, Ouwehand stated her intention to pursue the party leadership on Sunday. In a statement, she noted that she had not received any formal notice of an integrity violation lodged against her.
Ouwehand revealed that she had sent a very critical letter to the board on Friday, in which she criticized the board for getting in the way of the party’s professionalization and democratization. She believes this letter to be the reason for the board’s decision to withdraw their support for her as the list leader. “I find it hard to separate one from the other,” she said.
The six-member faction of the PvdD in the Tweede Kamer is divided on the issue. According to MP Christine Teunissen, “everyone is just different.” Vestering has been the most reserved in her response to the internal conflict. Within the party, she is known as a fanatic politician primarily focussing on animal rights issues. Various media outlets reported that she has had disagreements with Ouwehand.
On Tuesday, 13 party staff members wrote a letter urging the board to step down. According to the letter, the board appears to be blocking the party’s potential participation in a future cabinet, a move that party leader Ouwehand is reportedly keen to prepare for. “It is concerning to read that the board is barely cooperating in this endeavor and is even obstructing it, for instance by suggesting that local factions ‘move to the opposition’ and by attempting to impose certain working methods desired by the board on the factions,” the staff members noted.
Earlier on Tuesday, nearly 200 local politicians from the party called the board to resign in an anonymous letter. These signatories echoed Ouwehand’s assessment of the party, stating, “Many of us recognize her criticism.” They affirmed their trust in Ouwehand’s leadership, declaring, “We have confidence in Esther Ouwehand as list leader and party leader.”
Esther Ouwehand, born in Katwijk, is known as a thorough administrator and good debater. She has been in the Tweede Kamer since 2006 and took over the party leadership as well as parliamentary group leadership from founding member Marianne Thieme in 2019.
In July, Ouwehand announced she wanted to become list leader again. The party leadership supported this at the time. “Esther has shown that she can convincingly stage the ideas of the Party for the Animals,” party chairman Van der Velden said at the time.
The PvdD has six seats in the Tweede Kamer and has been on a winning streak in the polls for some time. Last week, the party presented its draft election program. Core themes in it remain animal rights, nature, the environment, as well as the climate crisis. The party will hold an election congress on September 24.