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World

Holland Swings to the Right

The Christian Democrats routed the ruling center-left in elections in the Netherlands on Wednesday. A new government coalition is expected between the Christian Democrats and the party of murdered populist Pim Fortuyn.

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Pim Fortuyn's List party candidates react to poll exit results in The Hague. The three-month-old party took second place.

Difficult negotiations for a new coalition government in the Netherlands were expected to begin on Thursday following the upset victory of the conservative Christian Democrats (CDA) and the Pim Fortuyn List (LPF) in parliamentary elections one day earlier.

The conservative Christian Democrats were the clear winners, capturing 43 seats of the 150-seat parliament in The Hague, according to preliminary official results. The Pim Fortuyn List, formed just three months ago by the openly gay, former academic, came in second,

Kok

winning 26 seats and leapfrogging the center-left ruling coalition headed by Wim Kok (photo).

Prime Minister Kok's coalition, made up of Labor, the free-market VVD and the left-liberal D66 were Wednesday's big losers, falling from 45 to 23 seats.

"It’s a tremendous beating. It’s a disastrous result," said Labor campaign manager Jacques Monasch. "It’s beyond a landslide."

The Greens maintained their eleven seats in parliament, while the Socialist Party earned nine seats - a four seat gain over 1998 elections.

Coalition negotiations begin

With no party or political bloc showing a clear majority after the vote, observers are expecting protracted negotiations to form a new Dutch government.

A new coalition government is expected between the Christian Democrats, the Pim Fortuyn List and the free-market VVD. Together, the three parties would hold 92 seats in parliament. If a deal were struck between the three parties, they would likely install Jan Peter Balkenende, a 46-year-old professor of Christian philosophy and Christian Democrat, as the country's next prime minister.

In post-election interviews, Mr. Balkenende has offered cagey remarks about the prospects of such a coalition, but it is still widely expected. "The voter gave the LPF a huge mandate," Mr. Balkenende told the Associated Press, "but we have to see how they act in the negotiations."

Observers predict that a coalition with Fortuyn’s party could collapse within six months, due in no small part to the extreme inexperience among LPF members. The LPF was very much Fortuyn’s creation and without him, many think the party's lifespan will prove short.

High voter turnout

The voting was brisk this year and turnout is estimated at around 80%, substantially higher than the 73.3% which voted in the 1998 election. Analysts had predicted that Pim Fortuyn’s murder outside a radio station by an suspected animal rights activist would energize the electorate.

"This is the most exciting election in decades," Andre Krouwel, a lecturer at Amsterdam’s Free University told Reuters. "We haven’t had a political murder for the last 350 years. If that doesn’t get people interested in politics, I don’t know what can."

Shake up of the system

For decades, the Netherlands’ political system was one of compromise and consensus. Its predictability and staid nature produced capable, if uninspiring politicians, all of whom basically got along.

Pim Fortuyn tot

Then along came Pim Fortuyn and shook up the cozy establishment. He exposed cracks in the comfortable facade of Dutch society and was not afraid to touch hot-button issues that other politicians steered clear of.

He advocated halting immigration, saying the Netherlands "was full" and raised the ire of many by calling Islam a "backward" religion, which threatened Holland’s liberal and tolerant society.

His outspokenness earned him the admiration of many voters, even those who might not have agreed with all of his views.

Blumen in Rotterdam nach dem Attentat

His murder last week shocked Dutch society, leading to an outpouring of sympathy comparable to what Britain experienced after the death of Princess Diana.

Wanting change

Although the Netherlands has experienced healthy economic growth for years and has an unemployment rate that is the envy of other European leaders, it also has waiting lists for hospitals, a deteriorating rail system, rising crime and cash-strapped schools. Voters wanted someone new in the driver’s seat after eight years of leadership under Kok.

On Thursday, the Dutch media greeted the election results with screamer headlines, like "Monster Victory," along with editorials calling on politicians to heed the warnings of the electorate that were displayed in Wednesday's protest votes.

"The results of the election makes the message ... urgent. In The Hague, it appears that everyone - from big to small and right to left - has understood the message," wrote the Volkskrant.

Another major newspaper, Trouw, opined: "Netherlands under the purple coalition is more prosperous than ever. But it is also true that criminality is prospering on the streets, and the accumulation of multi-ethnic problems is putting heavy pressure on big cities."

And in the end, it was those pressures that swayed Dutch voters.

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