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EU: Dutch Going To Polls In Highly Charged Atmosphere Following Fortuyn Murder

  • Breffni O'Rourke

The usually placid world of Dutch national politics has been transformed by the killing of rightist leader Pim Fortuyn. Emotion is running high, and it cannot be ruled out that votes will flow to Fortuyn's List Party as a protest against the political assassination. Given the gains of the far right elsewhere in Western Europe, many see cause for concern. Some even predict trouble for the EU's eastward expansion process.

Prague, 13 May 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The Dutch go into national elections this week (15 May) in a state of turmoil caused by the murder of popular rightist politician Pim Fortuyn.

Feelings are running high around the country following the shooting of Fortuyn, whose most prominent campaign plank was his opposition to immigration, particularly from Muslim countries.

That program appeared to be striking a chord among the Dutch public, and commentators say there is a possibility there will be a "sympathy" vote for Fortuyn's newly formed List Party. As analyst Rinus van Schendelen said, "A large part of the electorate is indeed emotional, more politicized than before, and the expectation is that the voting turnout will now be higher than before, so most colleagues expect a turnout of 80 to 85 percent."

And Schendelen, who is a professor of political science at Rotterdam University, points out that by tradition there are many floating voters in the Dutch electorate. That means that they are not tied ideologically to any particular party, and this time could easily throw their weight behind the List Party.

That would appear to mean a swing to the right -- or even the far right, many would say -- in traditionally liberal Holland. But Schendelen does not see it as simply as that. He says that the new party cannot be placed in a simple left-right dimension. Fortuyn, in creating the party, had drawn upon strands from the right, from the liberal center, and even from the socialists.

Schendelen notes that in Dutch politics at the national level, a cozy circle of party elites, civil servants, and interest groups have largely formulated policy, but hardly involved the ordinary citizen. Fortuyn changed that: "That new party of Mr. Fortuyn, in fact, has become the voice for the unorganized citizen."

Schendelen and other commentators reject, therefore, the notion that the List Party is the same as far-right movements in Europe, like the National Front of Jean-Marie Le Pen or the Freedom Party of Joerg Haider in Austria.

Nevertheless, Fortuyn would likely have been one of the people that British Prime Minister Tony Blair and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder had in mind yesterday when they warned of growing support in Europe for undemocratic right-wing parties. Schroeder said a trend toward nationalism among extremist parties could even threaten European Union enlargement to Central and Eastern Europe.

In Prague, analyst Petr Drulak says that almost without exception, far rightists are against the EU enlargement. Although he also views Fortuyn as too complex a character to be labeled simply as a far rightist, he says that Fortuyn was among those firmly against the enlargement. All taken together, therefore, there is at least potentially a danger for the Eastern accession countries. "From that point of view, theoretically, we can consider that there could be such a threat, that they -- [the far rightists] -- will move the political discourse, they will move the mood even more against the EU enlargement, even more than it is at present."

However, Drulak of the Czech Institute of International Relations sees the threat as remaining theoretical, in that he sees the moderate majority in any given country as still being able to override extremist views.

As to the List Party, which was formed only a few months ago, there are doubts about whether it can remain a viable or cohesive entity now that the charismatic and energetic Fortuyn is gone.