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Wednesday, 15 May, 2002, 12:52 GMT 13:52 UK
Dutch vote in shadow of killing
Polling station at boxing school in Amsterdam
Pim Fortuyn's murder has touched many voters
A heavy turnout has been reported in the Dutch general election - being held just nine days after the assassination of populist leader Pim Fortuyn threw politics into turmoil.

Emotions are running high and it's understandable after the recent and dramatic events. But this is about the future of our society

Interim Prime Minister Wim Kok
Dutch television said 16% of the 12 million electorate voted within the first three and a half hours, compared with 13% at the same stage of the last general election four years ago.

The centre-left coalition that has been in power for eight years is braced for a resounding defeat in a vote overshadowed by last week's shooting.

As sympathy for Fortuyn continues to affect voters, analysts say his three-month-old, leaderless party could win enough support to join a ruling coalition with the Christian Democrats (CDA).

'Heading for defeat'

Nearly all agree that interim Prime Minister Wim Kok's coalition will be defeated.

The latest opinion poll, on the eve of the election, put the CDA in the lead with their moral agenda and focus on social responsibility.

Launch new window : Voters' voices
In pictures: Dutch voters' views

The Labour and Liberal coalition partners - who have pledged extra spending - come next.

The Pim Fortuyn List (LPF) is in fourth place, putting forward an anti-immigration, pro-integration platform.

Coalition confusion

After casting their ballots, some voters confirmed they had backed the murdered politician's party.

Dutch election:
  • Moderate conservative Christian Democrats leading in opinion polls
  • Pim Fortuyn List in fourth place
  • 12.5 million people eligible to vote
  • Polls open 0530 - 1900 GMT
  • Early results expected 2000 GMT

      Election contenders

  • "I want Fortuyn to win, because he was different from the others. I like his ideas very much," Marijke, a 65-year-old voter in central Rotterdam, told BBC News Online.

    But others doubted Fortuyn's candidates had enough experience to enter government, while acknowledging the party was likely to do well.

    "A lot of people in List Pim Fortuyn are not even qualified to participate in parliament, so that makes it pretty uncertain", said 23-year-old business student Gonesh Ashvin

    The BBC's Geraldine Coughlan says the make-up of the new government depends on what type of coalition the parties agree on.

    Even if the LPF gains a large percentage of the vote, it could still end up on the opposition benches.

    Because of the Dutch system of proportional representation, governments are always coalitions and often take many weeks to form.

    Unknown quantity

    Analysts say the concern about this election is how much influence the LPF will be able to exert - and how extreme the views of its politically unknown candidates will be.

    Jan Peter Balkenede, who leads the CDA, said he did not exclude co-operating with any party.

    Pim Fortuyn
    Fortuyn's murder totally changed the character of the campaign

    "I hope that the turnout will be very large and that people will take into account the emotion of the last few days," he said. "What we need now are political parties that stand up for their points of view."

    Mat Herben, an LPF spokesman, said: "The worst outcome would be that nothing changes in this country Real change will only occur when the LPF can participate."

    Mr Kok's government resigned last month after a damning report about the failure of Dutch peacekeepers in Bosnia in 1995.

    He appealed for voters to use their heads and not their hearts.

    "Emotions are running high and it's understandable after the recent and dramatic events. But this is about the future of our society," he said.

    Outpouring of grief

    Pim Fortuyn had won much support with his plain speaking on topics such as immigration.

    Wim Kok
    Wim Kok's Labour Party is expected to fare badly

    He called Islam "backward" and demanded that the Netherlands should close its borders to new immigrants, while foreigners living in the country should do more to integrate.

    About one in 10 of the Dutch population of 16 million belongs to an ethnic minority community.

    Election campaigning was stopped after Fortuyn's assassination by a lone gunman outside a radio station.

    Thousands turned out for his funeral in an outpouring of grief and anger unprecedented in Dutch society.

    Police have charged animal rights activist Volkert van der Graaf, 32, with Fortuyn's murder.

    He has yet to make a statement to police and is expected to appear in court again on Thursday.

    The BBC's Chris Morris
    "Turnout in this election was much higher than normal"
    See also:

    15 May 02 | Europe
    Fortuyn's foes named in lawsuit
    15 May 02 | Europe
    Brisk start to Dutch polling
    15 May 02 | Europe
    Holland steps into the unknown
    14 May 02 | Europe
    Inquiry into Fortuyn's security
    13 May 02 | Europe
    Fortuyn party soars in polls
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