DCSIMG

Dutch prepare for shift to the Right

PIM Fortuyn’s face stared off the covers of a row of magazines in Elly Jansen’s news agents’ shop just a few steps from Amsterdam’s Central Station. She would never have dreamed of voting for the murdered Dutch maverick, she said, nor will she vote for his party today. But she will be glued to the television as the results come in, eaten up with curiosity.

The Dutch go to the polls today in a baffling election, dominated by the man who campaigned on a virtual ban on immigration and made Dutch Muslims his particular target.

Mr Fortuyn, a former sociology professor, was shot dead ten days ago, but his slate of candidates, Pim Fortuyn’s List, is promising to carry his cause into the election.

"In the long run, he is the winner," said Bas, 67, a film camera operator heading for his train out of Amsterdam. "But he is a dead winner."

What Ms Jansen and others are wondering is whether Pim Fortuyn’s List will collect the nearly 20 per cent it is promised in the polls, catapulting an untested collection of political novices into the Dutch parliament. Muslims in the Netherlands and probably across Europe, will be watching intently. Mr Fortuyn promised a blanket ban on Muslim immigrants, calling Islam a "backward" culture intolerant of gays and women's’ rights, and today’s vote will test just how popular that message is.

"He has triggered something that worries me," said Rahmat Abdur Rahman, headmaster of a Muslim primary school in one of Amsterdam’s heavily minority neighbourhoods. "If you say no more Muslims should be allowed into the Netherlands, is that beginning to say the Muslims should be chucked out?"

The other glaring question is whether Mr Fortuyn’s legacy will sink the ruling Labour party, just as Jean-Marie Le Pen’s insurgent vote achieved in the French presidential elections.

A clear winner tomorrow is likely to be the opposition conservative Christian Democrats.

In a measure of the Labour Party’s troubles, Ad Melkert, the new head of the party and chosen successor to the prime minister, Wim Kok, yesterday turned down calls to step aside, after a sharp fall in polls and bitter complaints that he was out of touch.

Felix Rottenberg, a former Labour Party chairman, said: "If someone falls this far and loses half his seats, he should do what [former French prime minister Lionel] Jospin did and the others because he will no longer be able to actively reform the party."

Polls predict Labour will lose nearly half its current 45 seats in the 150-member parliament, with the conservatives moving into first place and expected to form a government.

Amsterdam, famous for its tolerance of drugs and prostitution, is clearly not Fortuyn territory. In interviews on the street here, several people predicted a big win for Fortuyn’s List, but no one planned to vote for it. Mr Fortuyn’s largest and most loyal following is around his home city of Rotterdam.

"I was going to vote for him," said Karen, a secretary, "but I don’t think it will be very useful without him, because he was the main man." But "many, many others", she said, were voting for his party.

Mr Fortuyn’s followers, a list of 49 names he collected over a matter of weeks, have not been helped by reports that he was less than impressed by the calibre of those campaigning under his name.

At the end of speeches, Mr Fortuyn’s trademark was to salute his audiences, and tell them: "At your service." His candidates drew derision this week when they lined up to salute in unison, Fortuyn-style.

Politicians declared an end to campaigning after Mr Fortuyn’s death, but Mr Kok broke his silence to bitterly attack Peter Langendam, the chairman of Fortuyn’s List, for saying that the bullet that killed him "came from the Left, not the Right" - lumping the environmental extremist blamed for the murder with the ruling coalition.

"A chill ran down my spine when I read that," said Mr Kok, who remains widely respected. The Christian Democrats also seized on the "incomprehensible" remark, saying it showed just how unstable Mr Fortuyn’s party was. Mr Langendam, who was only appointed on Saturday, rapidly resigned.

Tumultuous countdown to politician’s murder that rocked a nation

FEBRUARY

- Pim Fortuyn kicked out of "Liveable Netherlands" party after branding Islam backward and saying Dutch borders should be closed.

MARCH

- Fortuyn forms his own party, "Pim Fortuyn List", on a populist taboo-breaking, anti-immigration platform and sees it sprint up opinion polls, as high as second place.

- Local elections on 6 March send shockwaves through political establishment as Fortuyn’s new local party "Liveable Rotterdam" becomes biggest winner in the Netherlands’ second city.

APRIL

- Report into 1995 Srebrenica massacre accuses politicians of sending Dutch UN peacekeepers on a mission impossible in a "safe area" that fell to Bosnian Serbs.

- Less than a week after the Srebrenica report, Wim Kok’s cabinet resigns in atonement for the Bosnia fiasco. Dutch army’s top general quits the following day.

MAY

- Fortuyn shot dead on 6 May after giving a radio interview, nine days before election.

- Kok consults politicians on delaying 15 May election, but decides not to postpone it.

 
 
 

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