Dutch centre-right government collapses

Searchlight, December 2002

After 87 days of scandals, rows, fights and splits inside the right-wing populist List Pim Fortuyn (LPF), Christian Democrat (CDA) prime-minister Jan-Peter Balkenende decided he had had enough of his fractious coalition partners and called a new election on 22 January.

Harry Wijnschenk, who took over as the LPF¹s leader after Mat Herben, acted as the catalyst, when he rearranged the structure of the LPF¹s parliamentary group. Wijnschenk surrounded himself with half of the 26-strong group, making all the decisions and shutting out the rest. However, when he made his debut in an important parliamentary debate and appeared politically totally amateurish, his critics went to town.

Leading the charge was Winny de Jong, Pim Fortuyn¹s ace party-leader-to-be if Fortuyn himself had been prime minister. When de Jong¹s assistant penned an internal report about Wijnschenk¹s performance, it was ­ as always ­ leaked to the press. Wijnschenk¹s response was to fire de Jong¹s assistant. De Jong, backed by the chairman of the LPF executive, property magnate Ed Maas, fiercely protested but was kicked out of the party at the end of September.

Cor Eberhard, an owner of internet porn sites and a figure who disturbed Wijnschenk also got the boot but stayed in parliament and, together with de Jong, started the rival "De Jong Group".

Maas, meanwhile, who had loaned the LPF £260.000 to clear its debts debt and had gained influence thereby, was attacked by Wijnschenk who revealed that Maas was busy "taking care of" his and his associates¹ businesses by getting them on the LPF¹s candidates¹ lists for next March¹s provincial elections.

In the government itself, LPF ministers Roelf De Boer (Traffic) and Herman Heinsbroek (Economic Affairs) provoked the irritation of their colleagues by questioning aspects of the LPF¹s coalition agreement such as road speed-limits and the power of the financial ministry.

Heinsbroek was not sacked but was flattered by Wijnschenk who started promoting him as the only true natural heir of the late Pim Fortuyn and asked him to become the LPF¹s group leader in parliament. This only laid another bomb under relations in the LPF group. Heinsbroek wanted, if he was to become group leader, also the post of deputy prime minster, now in the hands of his LPF "colleague" and health care minister, Eduard Bomhoff, who immediately responded: "Never!"

Heinsbroek and Wijnschenk made two crucial mistakes in the political arena: party leaders are usually chosen by party-members and ministerial posts are appointed by the Queen¹s advisers. These mistakes isolated the two even more.

After a mere six weeks of disaster as party leader, Wijnschenk was kicked out after a party congress with Herben returning as leader only to see the simmering row between the ministers Heinsbroek and Bomhoff explode.

Meeting after meeting was then held by the LP¹s ministers and secretaries of state ­ with and without the two antagonists ­ and, in the end it was decided they had to resign.

When they refused, prime minster Balkenende, encouraged by Gerrit Zalm, leader of the right-wing liberal VVD, decided that trust between the coalition parties had evaporated and offered the government;s resignation, preventing Herben from saving the LPF¹s short-lived governmental adventure.

The declaration of new elections on 22 January prompted a flurry of announcements of new alignments and new parties taking over the LPF¹s programme, being the true party of Fortuyn¹s legacy etc. Heinsbroek, resident in one of his villas in Saint Tropez, wanted to campaign with the Lijst Nieuwe Politiek (LNP ­ New Politics List), saying that he feels the true blood of Fortuyn running through his veins. Wijnschenk would have accompanied him, but one month before the LNP had to finish their list of candidates, Heinsbroek already threw the towel. The multimillionaire couldn't find enough candidates, looking for 15, who were prepared to take a seat in parliament for the fee parliamentarians get. Exit Heinsbroek.

Winny de Jong, on the hand, launched De Conservatieven.nl (The Conservatives.nl) and found a friend in Michiel Smit of Leefbaar Rotterdam, gagged by his local party because of his right-wing sympathies. Rien Boiten, another right-winger, who advised De Jong in her battle with Wijnschenk will probably also have a go with this new party. The programm of De Conservatieven.nl is at some points even more radical than the one of the fascist NNP.

LPF chairman Ed Maas, meanwhile, has announced from his domicile in Tenerife, that he will kick all sympathisers of Wijnschenk and Heinsbroek ­ whom he called "a traitor" ­ out of the party. Mat Herben¹s long-time deputy, Ferry Hoogendijk, has, like many others in the LPF, opted to quit politics and return to business. Hilbrand Nawijn, the LPF¹s tough minister of integration and asylum, will be heading the LPF¹s list in the coming campaign and, at the end of the year, will publish a book, as Fortuyn did, about asylum-politics. Marten Fortuyn, Pim Fortuyn¹s brother, is now advisor to the LPF.

No fewer than 28 parties want to contest the elections. Leefbaar Nederland (LN ­ Liveable Netherlands), which catapulted Pim Fortuyn into politics just a year ago, wants to work with other parties, while Jan Nagel, the founding father of LN, has registered the party Nieuw Nederland (New Netherlands), initially set up as "a think-tank to save the Netherlands".

Of course the fascist Nieuwe Nationale Partij (NNP ­ New National Party), will also try to win seats in parliament and, although it lacks a national organisational structure, it will probably attract some LPF voters or members throughout the Netherlands with its anti-Islamic slogans.

It remains uncertain what the full effect of the fall of the government and the battle in the LPF will be. The 1.6 million people that voted for Fortuyn¹s ideas hardly got anything back, despite tough talk by Nawijn and Heinsbroek. Nevertheless, the political and social climates have definitely changed and in this atmosphere parties with right-wing ideas have gained enough confidence further to destabilise relations between migrants and Dutch people.

Already the VVD and CDA have said that they will make the centre-right governmental agreement part of their election campaigns and the main topics of the coming elections will still be migrants, integration, asylum and law and order, exactly the same issues on which Fortuyn¹s party emerged out of nothing to became the Netherlands¹ second party on the 15 May.

By Jeroen Bosch of Alert! in Utrecht