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Thursday, 16 May, 2002, 07:54 GMT 08:54 UK
Analysis: Dutch turn to the right
Supporters congratulate Christian Democrat party leader Jan Peter Balkenende
The elections changed the Dutch political landscape
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By Paul Anderson
BBC correspondent in The Hague

The man described as the Harry Potter of Dutch politics, Jan Peter Balkenende, swept his Christian Democratic party (CDA) back into power after an eight-year spell in the political wilderness.

If Pim had lived, we would have been the biggest party

Mat Herben, LPF
By the conservative standards of Dutch politics it was a landslide, giving the CDA 43 seats in the 150 seat parliament.

But the party of the charismatic politician, Pim Fortuyn, who was murdered last week, also benefited handsomely from the sea change in the mood of the Dutch electorate.

More than 80% turned out to vote, well above the level four years ago.

"If Pim had lived, we would have been the biggest party," said Pim Fortuyn List (LPF) spokesman Mat Herben.

Mr Balkenende signalled that discussions would start soon on forming a new government, especially, he said, with members of the List Pim Fortuyn.

Policy rethink

The party will have to refine its policies, especially on the issues which touched the rawest nerve of the electorate - crime and immigration.

Pim Fortuyn
Fortuyn's party will have to find its own way forward

Mr Fortuyn called for an end to immigration and a crack down on crime.

Much of the violent crime in the Netherlands is associated with immigrants, even though there are no hard statistics to back it up.

Until now, the party has stood for a collection of vague populist programmes which have yet to be fleshed out.

Mr Balkenende, who himself has promised to tighten immigration, will demand clearer and softer positions from the party.

But List Pim Fortuyn must first select a successor to Mr Fortuyn, and since his murder 10 days ago they have found that hard, frequently descending into internal squabbling.

Political horsetrading

The Netherlands has a system of proportional representation, which means no one party emerges with a clear majority.

Prime Minister Wim Kok
The centre-left suffered a resounding defeat

So, for decades the government has been a coalition of sometimes unlikely political bedfellows.

But for the past eight years it worked extremely well.

The leader of the Labour party and outgoing Prime Minister, Wim Kok, led the country through a period of economic growth, prosperity and shrinking unemployment.

Not that it did him much good.

He was seen as out of touch and no match for the man who, voters said, hit all the right buttons with his taboo-shattering and confrontational style.

One of the other problems was that economic progress came at a cost to spending on basic services like health, education, policing and pensions.

Voters have signalled they want big improvements in these.

Wider impact

Party officials described the government's defeat as disastrous - not just for the party, but for social democracy across Europe.

Centre-left parties have been routed in Italy, Portugal and Denmark.

The French socialist leader, Lionel Jospin, bowed out of politics after losing his place in the race for the presidency to the right-wing extremist Jean Marie Le Pen.

Wim Kok, along with Lionel Jospin and Gerhard Schroeder of Germany, was one of the pillars of western Europe's much heralded centre-left 'Third Way'.

Today that political structure is looking shakier than ever.

See also:

16 May 02 | Europe
'An electoral revolution'
15 May 02 | Europe
Fortuyn's foes named in lawsuit
14 May 02 | Europe
Inquiry into Fortuyn's security
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