- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 16, 2002

AMSTERDAM Dutch opposition parties, including the Christian Democrats and the movement of a slain populist candidate, were the big winners in yesterday's elections.

Riding a wave of discontent with the country's political elite, the Christian Democrats were expected to wind up with 43 seats up 14 from their current holding in the 150-seat parliament.

With 88.6 percent of the vote counted, party leader Jan Peter Balkenende declared that he was "ready to take on the responsibility" of forming a government.

The upstart party of slain populist candidate Pim Fortuyn was set to sweep into the legislature with 26 seats a remarkable feat for a political force that did not exist a few months ago.

Prime Minister Wim Kok's governing socialists are expected to plunge from 45 seats to 23, and his Liberal allies from 38 to 23, according to the results.

The outcome was a severe defeat for Mr. Kok's coalition, which brought the Dutch peerless growth since 1994 but was punished for ignoring public concerns about drugs, immigration, welfare abuse and lax law enforcement.

Mr. Fortuyn brought those issues to the fore, tapping into a current of discontent with the Netherlands' ruling politicians and their tolerant policies.

He was killed on May 6 by a gunman after a campaign radio interview. He was 54. His murder shocked this country of 16 million that was a stranger to political violence and long prided itself on no-ripple consensus politics.

It was a surprisingly strong showing for the right-wing Christian Democrats. Earlier polls had suggested they would win by a narrow margin over the two major parties of the outgoing coalition, the Labor Party and the Liberals and over Mr. Fortuyn's untested followers.

The elections thrust Mr. Balkenende, a 46-year-old Christian philosophy professor, into the role as likely prime minister-to-be, just eight months after he took over the party.

The results proved Mr. Fortuyn's party, the Liberals and the Christian Democrats could marshal a comfortable parliamentary majority for a right-wing government, though an agreement on a government program likely would be tough to find.

At the outset of voting, Mr. Kok told voters that his eight years at the helm brought "formidable" growth and prosperity. He said the elections "are about my legacy."

In the end, they were more about the legacy of Mr. Fortuyn, the openly homosexual, ex-university professor who was a harsh critic of the government's permissiveness toward welfare abusers and tolerant asylum, drug and law enforcement policies.

Defense Minister Frank de Grave, a Liberal, called his party's defeat "heavier than expected." The secretary of the Labor Party, Ruud Koole, said it was the worst result in the party's history. "This is a difficult day for Labor," he said.

Mr. Fortuyn's party List Pim Fortuyn was exultant. "This is fantastic," Mat Herben said at his party's election headquarters in The Hague.

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