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Tuesday, 14 May, 2002, 13:08 GMT 14:08 UK
Analysis: Breaking the Dutch mould
Fortun supporters carry posters of the dead politician
Fortuyn has re-awakened an interest in politics
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By Professor Andre Krouwel
Free University of Amsterdam

The rise of Pim Fortuyn and his right-wing, neo-populist party has profoundly changed the mould of Dutch politics - which for centuries has been based on power-sharing and political compromise.

The lack of regard for what the voters want is often seen as the real drawback of the Dutch system

Since the end of World War II, on average 10 parties have been represented in parliament, while at times there have been as many as 14 different political groups in the house.

As a result, forming a majority government has meant broad coalitions of up to five parties.

It goes without saying that in such a system, party platforms are little more than strategic documents - drafted with one eye at possible coalition partners and with the other eye on the voters.

Most often governments are a combination of winners and losers in the last election - indeed winners are often excluded and losers included.

This lack of regard for what the voters want is often seen as the real drawback of the Dutch system, providing fertile ground for the ambitions of a political entrepreneur like Mr Fortuyn.

Security shaken

There are four parties who have traditionally been the serious contenders for national government, forming a seemingly unshakeable cartel.

The Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA), the liberal conservative Party of Freedom and Democracy (VVD), the Social Democratic PvdA, and since the late 1960s, the progressive liberals of Democrats 66 (D66).

The stability of this cartel was shattered with the rise of Mr Fortuyn.

Wim Kok
Wim Kok has a lot to be proud of, but he has failed to engage his electorate
From out of the blue he presented himself as the new prime minister, debated with other party leaders in a non-consensual manner and in a language that everybody could understand.

The traditional parties did not have an answer.

In debates on television their leaders looked dull and indecisive compared to the eloquent and colourful performance of Mr Fortuyn.

In addition to his anti-immigration stance, the departure he represented from the dominant political culture attracted a substantial number of citizens who had previously not bothered to vote.

Mr Fortuyn and his eloquent performance sparked their interest in politics again.

Out of touch

The rise of his party, List Pim Fortuyn, made the crisis of the traditional parties crystal clear.

The Dutch electorate has become available to adventurous political entrepreneurs like Fortuyn

They had lost touch with their voters.

The last two coalitions of the PvdA, VVD and D66 were extremely successful in their economic policy, yet had neglected to enter into a political debate with both the voters and the opposition parties.

Besides failing to engage with the electorate, the alliance of the two parties which should be at odds with each other - the Social Democrats and the Conservatives - had estranged both their core electorates and made these parties vulnerable in political debates.

Mr Fortuyn used the widespread anti-party sentiment and mobilised voters against "those politicians in The Hague", who he said had no grasp of everyday life.

Even if List Pim Fortuyn falls short of the 20% it is predicted to get in Wednesday's polls, the fact remains that the Dutch electorate has become available to adventurous political entrepreneurs such as Mr Fortuyn.

The traditional parties with all their experience and policy successes can only stare in awe, apparently unable to come up with an answer to this new challenge.

See also:

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