Searchlight - April 2006
In the run up to the 7 March local government elections, the main question was whether the right-wing populist parties that emerged from the political earthquake caused by the late Pim Fortuyn in 2002 would hold their positions.
There was also speculation about whether the racist Nieuw Rechts party, standing in five cities, would be able to add to its single seat in Rotterdam. On the margins, meanwhile, the nazi Dutch People's Union (NVU) and the fascist National Alliance (NA) both stood, although the latter was trying desperately to cling on to its single seat on the Feijenoord (Rotterdam) district council.
The NA lost its seat although it invested considerable energy in trying to hold on to it. Its leader Jan Teijn was seen several times leafleting in Rotterdam and dressed up in an orange burka but hardly any of its voters, who gave the NA's predecessor, the New National Party, two seats four years ago, were interested anymore.
The NVU fielded candidates in Arnhem, Nijmegen, Oss, Venray and Apeldoorn, but failed to get over 1% anywhere. Party führer Constant Kusters did not allow his candidates to speak for themselves and, at a demonstration in Nijmegen at 4 March, the NVU made clear that it did not care about local issues. The real goal of participating was as always to create a free space for nazi-propaganda and to give party members something to do. The support of the German nazi Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands for the NVU's "patriotic" campaign resulted in a delegation of Freie Kameradschaften scum from Dortmund strutting around Nijmegen with a banner proclaiming "Dortmund is our city".
Nieuw Rechts (NR) participated in Eindhoven, Almelo, Rotterdam and suburbs and Ridderkerk, but only managed to grab a seat in the latter. NR leader Michiel Smit lost his job as councillor and the future looks grim for him and his party. They still face a claim from the city-council for € 45.000 euro (£31,000) for fraud with community money and the members are demoralised.
What may have been a major contribution to NR's defeat was a swift campaign by Anti-Fascist Action, distributing almost 65,000 tabloid newspapers against in the cities where NR was trying to gain ground.
The populist Leefbaar Rotterdam's (LR) new leader, Marco Pastors, who took office in Fortuyn's residence in Rotterdam during the campaign, went head-to-head with the social democrats of the PvdA which, with the exception of the last four years, has ruled Rotterdam since WWII.
In this battle, LR dropped from 17 to 14 seats and the PvdA ran out winner with 18 seats. Also making gains were the left parties GroenLinks and the Socialist Party. Pastors reacted to his defeat immediately by blaming "foreigners" and "dissolute people". If "foreigners" voted massively for the social democrats that was entirely due to LR's hard line on migrants and Muslims. Ex-VVD parliamentarian and would-be populist Geert Wilders did not contest the elections but his new Party of Freedom, say the opinion polls, would gain five seats if there were parliamentary elections now.
The local branches of the List Pim Fortuyn (LPF) fielded candidates in eleven towns, but fared badly, winning only ten seats in five of these towns. Other right-wing participants like the resurrected Centrum Democraten won nothing. Former LPF minister and now independent parliamentarian, Hilbrand Nawijn, who is close to the right-wing extremist Vlaams Belang, won 5 seats with the 'List Nawijn' in his hometown Zoetermeer. The former driver of Pim Fortuyn, who helped capture Fortuyn's murderer Volkert van der Graaf, also won 5 seats with his 'List Smolders' in his hometown of Tilburg. His program however is not very clear.
With a turnout of not even 60%, this election campaign was supposed to be an early indication of Dutch political choice in the parliamentary ballot in May 2007.
However, top mainstream party politicians made a bigger than usual intervention in the local campaigns, turning them into a fight between social democrats on the one side and conservative liberals and Christian democrats on the other The results, which marked a shift in the political landscape from conservative right to social democratic left, even forced the leader of the liberal VVD in parliament to quit his job.
All in all, the elections showed that the extreme right-wing parties lost out heavily in the national between "left" and "right", but this does not mean they will not do better in other circumstances.
The electorate proved again that it shops around between political personalities and, in that sense, social democrat leader Wouter Bos proved to have learned a lot from the way that Fortuyn played the media. While the so-called "livable" movement, with Leefbaar Rotterdam as its most successful representative, has lost ground, it could return just as easily in four years' time.
Most interesting, however, will be to see how and on what issues a nationwide movement led by Pastors would challenge for seats in the parliament.
The campaign for next year's elections has already opened.
By Jeroen Bosch of Alert! and Antifa-Net in Utrecht