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Thursday, 16 May, 2002, 09:00 GMT 10:00 UK
Dutch 'Harry Potter' on the way up
Balkenende holds up a picture of himself and schoolboy wizard Harry Potter
"Spot the difference" reads the caption beneath a photo of Balkenende and Potter
A Christian philosophy professor who takes a dim view of cannabis cafes, gay marriage and euthanasia is tipped to become the next leader of the Netherlands, a country famed as a pioneer of liberal legislation on these issues.

My work is also my hobby

Jan Peter Balkenende
"Dull but 200% reliable," as one newspaper described him, Jan Peter Balkenende has won widespread public affection with his plain-spoken manner and his good humoured acceptance of the nickname "Harry Potter".

Mr Balkenende, who is said to enjoy the American medical drama ER, and the Canadian singer Celine Dion, is thought by some to resemble the schoolboy wizard.

The 45-year-old is credited with reversing the flagging fortunes of his Christian Democratic party (CDA), which made a striking comeback from opposition to take the biggest share of the vote in Wednesday's poll - riding partly on a wave of discontent stoked by the late Pim Fortuyn's attacks on the centre-left coalition.

Once dismissed by the assassinated politician as "much too young and inexperienced to lead a government", it is likely to be Mr Balkenende who will decide whether or not to invite members of Mr Fortuyn's controversial party into his cabinet.

No smoking

Mr Balkenende, the son of a grain trader from the southwest province of Zeeland, is indeed a newcomer to leadership.

Pim Fortuyn
He never ruled out working with Fortuyn
He became head of the party just eight months ago after stepping into a prolonged power struggle between two other contenders. Political commentators at the time wrote him off as an interim solution, and not a man who would be able to excite Dutch voters.

But he gained respect for an electoral campaign which emphasised his own policies rather than the failings of his rivals. He avoided branding Mr Fortuyn a right-wing extremist for his anti-immigration views, and never ruled out working with him.

His own views on immigration are not so far removed from those of the assassinated politician. The Christian Democrats have promised to tighten immigration policies and oblige foreigners to integrate.

They have demanded that all immigrants learn the national anthem by heart and want mandatory language and culture classes. Immigrants wanting to bring a spouse into the Netherlands would be obliged to pay a hefty deposit for an integration course.

Unlike Mr Fortuyn, the Christian Democrats do not propose closing the Dutch borders to new immigrants, but the party's success is nonetheless widely seen as signalling an end to years of liberal legislation in the Netherlands.

Mr Balkenende is not expected to move to repeal legislation which allowed euthanasia and gay marriage, but is reported to be considering a clampdown on the sale of soft drugs.

Although the sale of marijuana is technically illegal, Dutch authorities tolerate the sale of small amounts in hundreds of so-called "coffee shops" that operate openly.

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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