The Netherlands Confronts Assassination and Election

By Hylarides, Peter | Contemporary Review, July 2002 | Go to article overview

The Netherlands Confronts Assassination and Election


Hylarides, Peter, Contemporary Review


ON May 6, little more than a week before the General Election would take place in the Netherlands, a politician was murdered in cold blood. A left-wing animal rights 'activist' is alleged to have killed him, apparently because he was in favour of fur trade. The assassinated politician was Professor Pim Fortuyn, a flamboyant ex-Marxist who, in the Dutch as well as the foreign media, was labelled a right-winger. He was more than that: an exceptionally intelligent academic who was very outspoken in his books and his columns in the Dutch weekly Elsevier. He became a brilliant campaigner for his new party, far surpassing the lacklustre performance of his liberal and social democratic opponents. Pim Fortuyn wanted to bring change to a political system, which, in his opinion, is elitist, autistic and completely out of touch with the electorate.

The results of the General Election on May 15th made it perfectly clear that the Dutch voters are unhappy with the political situation. It has never happened before, that a new party entered the Second Chamber with 26 seats, a huge amount, considering the fact that the total amount of seats is 150. The LPF (Pim Fortuyn List) did just that, at the expense of the two coalition government parties VVD (Liberal Democrats) and PvdA (Labour Party). The VVD lost 15 of their 38 seats and the PvdA lost almost half of their seats, they went down from 45 to 23 seats. Another amazing winner was the CDA (Christian Democratic Appeal), a party that was on a downward spiral for a long time. They went from 29 to 43 seats, making them, once again, the biggest party in the Netherlands.

What is happening in the Netherlands, a country well known for its prosperity, stability, tolerance and liberalism? Are the Dutch about to witness a revolution that will end the system of consensus-based politics? To put the current development into perspective, we have to look at the political situation of the last forty years.

Until the 1960s, the Netherlands was a 'pillarized' society. Political and religious denomination determined voting behaviour. The political scene was dominated by five parties: KVP (Catholic Peoples' Party), ARP (Calvinists), CHU (Dutch Reformed) and the already mentioned PvdA and VVD. Decisions were (and are) made by political and organisational elites who, in public, opposed each other whilst making deals behind closed doors. Governments were (and are) always coalition governments, as no party has ever achieved an outright majority and one or more of the Christian parties had been part of every coalition since the beginning of the twentieth century. The leader of the biggest party normally became prime minister. As the creation of the welfare state was high on the agenda of all parties, manifestos bore close resemblance on this point. The choice for voters had become less clear, which, in turn, created unrest among the, until then, rather subservient population.

Secularisation and growing dissatisfaction with elitist behaviour opened the road for anti-establishment parties like D66, which was founded in 1966 on a platform of political and social renewal. Their ideas can be summarized as greater transparency in political decision-making, more voter influence and replacement of the existing party-political establishment. The alienation of traditional political parties can be seen when we compare the election results of 1963 to those of 1971. In the first year, the five main parties still held 87 per cent of the votes, whereas by 1971 they were down to 72 per cent. The 1970s were the decade of 'polarisation'. It made politics popular again amongst the general public. Party manifestos were as opposite as one can imagine, and due to proportional representation, a whole range of parties were available to an enthusiastic population. Parliamentary debates on television drew almost as many viewers as important football matches and elections were real competitions. …

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