International Papers

Pim Fortuyn’s Ghost

Pim Fortuyn’s List (LPF), the populist party that zoomed from nowhere to second place in last May’s Dutch elections nine days after Fortuyn was assassinated, collapsed Wednesday, holding on to just eight of the 26 seats it won in 2002. The centrist Christian Democrats (CDA) took 44, a gain of one, and the Labor Party (PvdA) jumped from 23 to 42 seats in the 150-seat parliament. The CDA called for a new election last October, after feuding among the hastily recruited LPF legislators made the governing coalition impossible to maintain. The Financial Times noted that the Netherlands has been steered by caretaker administrations for all but 87 days following the resignation of Wim Kok’s center-left coalition in April 2002.

Although the CDA leader Jan Peter Balkenende is reluctant to form a coalition with the PvdA, under Dutch law the two parties with the most seats in parliament are obliged to try to form an alliance before considering other options. Algemeen Dagblad declared, “The CDA cannot ignore the wishes of the voters and bypass the PvdA, the big victor in these elections.” Spain’s El País said, “In a delicate economic situation and with a leaden international horizon, Holland needs a stable government.” When the two parties last governed together in the late 1980s, it took six months to reach a coalition deal.

Britain’s Guardian said this week’s results “plainly suggest that the old hierarchy of two, dominant mainstream parties has been resurrected.” The Independent disagreed, calling such an interpretation “simplistic and premature.” The editorial said Pim Fortuyn’s legacy was now stamped on Dutch politics, despite LPF’s meltdown: “His complaints about immigration and crime find expression in the manifesto of almost every one of the dozen parties contesting this election, as … do some of his remedies, including the integration of immigrants.”

Fortuyn also received credit for injecting personality into Dutch politics. The Times of London ascribed the “phoenix-like return to favor” of the PvdA to “the televisual charm of its handsome new leader,” Wouter Bos. The FT noted that Bos was “elected Labor leader for the first time in an open system, based on one member, one vote. … The old arrogant style of the main parties has been forced to give way to more democracy.” Canada’s Globe and Mail added: “[I]f nothing else, the arrival of the flamboyant Mr. Fortuyn has changed the notoriously dull nature of Dutch politics, where debates rarely got heated and candidates were for many years nearly indistinguishable.”