NETHERLANDS ELECTIONS: Dutch Reject Politics of Consensus to Vote for Dead Man's Party ; Voters Queue to Cast Votes for Murdered Politician at the Expense of Ruling Party and a Tradition of Liberalism
Castle, Stephen, The Independent (London, England)
IN ROTTERDAM city hall the inquest had already begun yesterday as the ruling Dutch social democrats contemplated defeat in one of the most extraordinary of recent elections.
"We expect a big loss," said Peter van Heest, an MP for the PvdA, the Social Democrats who have been in power since 1994. "We are starting slowly to realise what has been happening. I know I will miss many familiar faces in [the Dutch parliament]. But we are giving each other a lot of personal support in this climate of hate."
As the night went on, his fears were realised. After the first computer predictions came in, Ruud Koole, the party's national secretary, described the result as the worst in the party's history. By 11pm the man bidding to be the PvdA premier, Ad Melkert, had quit as party leader.
Despite delivering years of economic bounty, the PvdA was preparing for a severe setback last night, a victim of the Dutch electorate's determination to drum its rulers from office. The centre-right Christian Democrats made the biggest gains, but a party that did not exist four months ago was catapulted to the position of the second biggest party.
Suddenly the Netherlands' consensual political system, which for so long had all the entertainment value of a Dutch clog dance, had become a spectator sport. This election was turned upside down by the assassination of the maverick, anti-immigration campaigner, Pim Fortuyn, 10 days ago.
As voters strolled through the sunshine to the polling stations many seemed intent on supporting his Lijst Fortuyn, a bickering political party with no leader and precious few policies. Never mind the fact that the shaven-headed politician was buried last Friday, when asked how they had voted, many in Rotterdam replied: "For Pim Fortuyn."
Normally the odd journalist from Belgium and Germany might turn up to cover an election in the Netherlands. Yesterday, every hotel room in The Hague was booked as the world's media flocked to see the last rites being read to the outgoing government.
In Rotterdam city hall, the Czech news agency vied with Catalan radio to interview voters and the council press officer apologised for her (fluent) English. Meanwhile, RTL Dutch TV interviewed foreign correspondents with a polished opening gambit: "Admit it, you would never normally have turned up for a Dutch election."
The opposition Christian Democrats, led by Jan-Peter Balkenende, were the main beneficiaries of this convulsion. Lijst Fortuyn was predicted to come second, and the Christian Democrats will be under massive pressure to admit the party into a coalition, possibly with the Liberals.
The Christian Democrats were already talking of a shift to the right yesterday, for example hardening opposition to a big enlargement of the EU in 2004. In its pursuit of those who backed Mr Fortuyn, the Dutch right may be about to take a new, more aggressive line in social policy and over Europe. …