Who Will Be The People’s Champion Now?

    {We ask who is waiting in the wings to take up the populist banner for the general election in November now that Leefbaar Nederland and the LPF are on the way out.} It looked as if the traditional political parties in the Netherlands were in trouble in the early part of the decade. After eight years of the consensus driven ‘Purple’ coalition between Labour (PvdA), Liberals (VVD) and Democrat D66, ordinary people in the street felt locked out from the corridors of power in The Hague – and they were ready to force themselves back in. The Trojan horse was to be a new kind of party, Leefbaar Nederland (Liveable Netherlands – LN). Founded in 1999 by Jan Nagel and Henk Westbroek of the successful Leefbaar parties in Hilversum and Utrecht, LN wasn’t going to be fettered by either left or right-wing philosophies. The main elements of its programme for the general election in May 2002 were: more of a say for ordinary people (at the expense of the traditional parties); less bureaucracy; and a more balanced (selective) asylum policy. Having the outspoken ‘professor’ and writer Pim Fortuyn at the helm significantly increased the party’s appeal. Early predictions were that LN could win up to 20 seats. Pim factor But everything went wrong three months before the election when the party executive sacked Fortuyn after he called for an end to immigration and for the removal of the anti-discrimination clause from the Constitution. Prosecutor Fred Teeven replaced Fortuyn as leader. LN won two seats while Fortuyn’s new political party, Lijst Pim Fortuyn (LPF), won 28 of the 150 seats in parliament. Although Fortuyn was assassinated nine days before the election, his party joined a centre-right coalition in triumph. The celebrations were short-lived. The government collapsed ignominiously 87 days later due to LPF infighting. The LPF managed to hang on to eight seats in the subsequent election in January 2003. Leefbaar Nederland lost both its seats. Opinion polls have consistently suggested the LPF, which has been reduced to six seats by further wrangling, will join LN on the political scrap heap after the election next November. Hit by a serious debt problem, LN has decided to dissolve; the LPF has chosen to fight on and appoint a “big name” to lead its election campaign. Yet it faces competition from a host of other groups and personalities who hope to capture the ‘people’s vote’. Here’s a rundown of the main contenders: – Geert Wilders – his hair has a life of its own A Conservative with an striking coiffure, Wilders (42) from the south-eastern city of Venlo presents himself as the natural successor to Pim Fortuyn – the new voice of the common man and woman of the Netherlands. Wilders is probably the second best known Dutch politician internationally after Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Both are former members of the Liberal Party (VVD), both are critics of fundamentalist Islam, both are against immigration from Muslim countries, and both had to go into hiding after Muslim Mohammed Bouyeri murdered filmmaker Theo van Gogh in November 2004. Two months before the killing, Wilders split with the Liberals over the party support for EU-accession talks with Turkey. He recently set up the Partij van de Vrijheid (Party of the Freedom) to contest the election in November. As has occurred frequently since Leefbaar Nederland rocked political certainties in the Netherlands, opinion polls were wildly enthusiast about the latest political contender. Wilders was tipped to win anything up to 30 seats. More recent surveys suggest he may get eight seats – still impressive for a new party. – Marco Pastors – ‘Pim’ stripe suits are his trademarl Given to wearing pinstripe suits in imitation of Fortuyn, Marco Pastors, 40, is a man with a mission – to bring the ‘Rotterdam approach’ – law & order, and compulsory integration for immigrants to the rest of the country. Pastors took over the leadership of Leefbaar Rotterdam after Fortuyn was murdered. The Fortuyn revolution began in the local elections two months before the national poll. Although Leefbaar Rotterdam was the largest group on the city council, Pastors never stopped seeing conspiracies and imagining the established parties were out for revenge. One sign of this, as far as he is concerned, was when he was forced off the city’s executive council for speaking his mind about Muslim immigrants, despite an agreement not to. A second sign was the local election in March this year when the Labour Party beat Leefbaar Rotterdam into second place. Pastors effectively abandoned any responsibility for the future government of the city. He has set his mind to continue the Fortuyn revolution on the national stage with a new political party. He is known to have approached several like minded Fortuynists, including the LPF’s Joost Eerdmans and former immigration minister Hilbrand Nawijn (ex-LPF). But his attempts to lure Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk away from the Liberals have failed so far. Details about the new party remain sketchy. – Hilbrand Nawijn – often pleased with himself The head of the Immigration and Naturalisation Service (IND) from 1988 to 1996, Nawijn became the LPF’s immigration minister in the short-lived 2002 coalition government. He introduced the uncompromising approach to immigration and asylum that Verdonk now follows. Consequently, Nawijn took great pleasure in calling on Verdonk to strip Somali-born Ayaan Hirsi Ali of her Dutch nationality for lying about her name. When not scowling about things he objects to, like lying asylum seekers, Nawijn is usually seen sporting a self-satisfied smirk. Elected to parliament with a huge personal vote in 2003, despite being on the bottom of the LPF list of candidates, he left the LPF in January 2005 in a row about his close ties with Filip Dewinter, leader of the far-right Vlaams Belang party in Belgium. His new party, Groep Nawijn, won five seats on Zoetermeer city council in March. However, it emerged in late July that Nawijn was one of the candidates being considered as the election leader for the LPF. Nawijn confirmed he was interested. LPF survivors Gerard van As – rebranded LPF will survive Most commentators – and opinion polls – suggest the LPF is washed up. The countless internal rows, frequent leadership changes and occasional mad-cap antics of its MPs have destroyed its credibility. That is the majority view. There is a minority opinion, held by a handful of LPFers, that the 2006 election can be a new beginning. Current leader Gerard van As has said the party will soon come with a new name and exciting new leader who will thrill the electorate. According to reports the ‘new’ name for the Lijst Pim Fortuyn is likely to include the name Fortuyn. And one of the three candidates for the leadership position is Nawijn, who left the LPF because his colleagues didn’t like him hanging around with the leader of the right-wing Vlaams Belang. Van As may be confident the LPF will survive; some of the other MPs are not. – Justice spokesman Joost Eerdmans is being courted by more than one suitor. – Matt Herben, twice called upon to lead the LPF and twice ditched for being ineffective, has faded into the background. – MP Max Hermans is also being wooed by other parties, and his personal LPF website no longer works. – MP Margot Kraneveldt resigned her seat in early July and rejoined the Labour Party. Her replacement, Gonny van Oudenallen, was expelled by the LPF over questions about her financial dealings while a councillor in Amsterdam. Van Oudenallen is now sitting as an independent, unconcerned by the prospect of losing her seat in November. A snap-shot of the main contenders for Fortuyn’s crown. The Dutch public will have to decide which, if any, are worthy to wear it.

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