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Tuesday, 14 May, 2002, 09:38 GMT 10:38 UK
Analysis: Holland's ethnic puzzle
A family in Oegstgeest cycle pass an election poster covered in black
Election posters draped in black sum up the mood
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By Laurence Peter
BBC News Online in Rotterdam

The impact of the populist anti-immigration politician Pim Fortuyn - whose killing has left the Netherlands in shock - has made the integration of ethnic minorities a key issue in Wednesday's general election.

Ethnic minorities form about 9% of the total Dutch population. But in the country's main cities - Amsterdam and Rotterdam - they comprise about 30% of the population.

A large sympathy vote is expected - Fortuyn's poll ratings have even increased since his death

For many years the ethnic minority population was dominated by people from four groups - Turks, Moroccans and people from the former Dutch colonies of Surinam and the Antilles.

But in the 1990s the proportion of asylum-seekers and refugees from various Asian and African countries grew, so that these new immigrants now form nearly 25% of the ethnic minority population.

'Full country'

Pim Fortuyn's declaration that the Netherlands is already "a full country" appears to have struck a chord with a significant section of the Dutch electorate, despite the fact that - according to some experts - the number of asylum seekers now arriving in the country is declining.

Pim Fortuyn
A third of Mr Fortuyn's supporters were said to be immigrants
"Many people here believe the government has been too soft on asylum seekers, but in reality the government has moved to close the borders to economic migrants," said Ahmed Aboutaleb, director of the Dutch Forum Institute for Multicultural Development.

"After Denmark, the Netherlands has the toughest laws on asylum seekers in the European Union."

However, the latest opinion poll indicates that Mr Fortuyn's party, List Pim Fortuyn, could win as many 28 of the 150 seats in the Dutch parliament's second chamber with its anti-immigration message.

That would make it one of the four biggest parties in parliament, where the country's tradition of tolerance is characterised by a proliferation of parties and a history of coalition governments.

Fortuyn's controversial statements on immigration are widely seen as a wake-up call in the Netherlands.

A common view is that he dared to say things which other politicians shied away from - he defied political correctness and was respected for that.

A large sympathy vote is expected - his poll ratings have even increased since his death.

Asylum in the Netherlands
2.8m people have at least one parent born outside the country
11% of them are unemployed - compared to 3% nationally
43,560 asylum applications made of which 9,730 granted
Source: Central Office of Statistics, figures for 2000
Fortuyn demanded integration of ethnic minorities - including learning the Dutch language - rather than accepting multiculturalism.

And despite fears in some quarters that such views could unleash a wave of far-right extremism, his strong personality appears to have won over many voters.

The challenge to the political establishment may be widely welcomed, but there is also a mood of uncertainty, because List Pim Fortuyn is such a young party, full of political novices.

According to Kees Lunshof, a political commentator with the Dutch daily De Telegraaf, many Dutch voters "identify rising crime with asylum-seekers and foreigners".

Fortuyn "played up the irritations that were there already - he was so attractive, so different for many who weren't thinking about these things before. He made them aware of these issues," Mr Lunshof told BBC News Online.

Ethnic minority support

The view that Fortuyn at least provoked political debate on real issues while other politicians remained aloof from voters is shared by a number of people from ethnic minorities - some of whom will no doubt vote for List Pim Fortuyn.

"List Pim Fortuyn is good," says Nanda Lopes, 28, who moved to Rotterdam from the Cape Verde islands in Africa at the age of seven.

"He did good things in Rotterdam, spoke about crime."

In the local elections in March, Fortuyn's party took 17 out of 45 council seats in Rotterdam.

Gilbert Wallerlei, 39, street cleaner
Street cleaner Gilbert Wallerlei: "If he was still alive I would vote for him"
Leo Brommet, a Rotterdam clinical research associate, says his Surinamese wife supports List Pim Fortuyn strongly because she believes ethnic minorities should integrate into Dutch society the way her family had to.

Arthur Boudewijn, 54, a Rotterdam taxi driver, says Fortuyn stressed the need for "education for people from foreign countries, to give them a chance for a good future".

A 1999 report on ethnic minorities by the Dutch Social and Cultural Planning Office noted that "the high unemployment among young people from the minorities - between 23% and 30% - is particularly worrying".

It said that three to four times more pupils from minority groups dropped out of school than Dutch-origin pupils.

It laments that ethnic minorities have suffered from "too little schooling and discrimination on the labour market". But it does note that policy on integration and acclimatisation "is getting off the ground well".

According to Frank Poortuyes, a political commentator with the Dutch daily De Volkskrant, one reason why there is support for List Pim Fortuyn among ethnic minorities is that Fortuyn did not simply lump them all together - he said those already in the Netherlands could stay, but he wanted to stop more entering the country.

The Fortuyn effect has galvanised Dutch politics to such an extent that "everybody is very puzzled" about this election, Mr Poortuyes says.

See also:

11 May 02 | From Our Own Correspondent
The paradox of Pim Fortuyn
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