- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 23, 2003

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands The governing Christian Democrats narrowly defeated a revived Labor Party in Dutch elections yesterday, capping a tumultuous year roiled by an anti-immigration party.
But no party won a majority of seats, leaving the shape of a government uncertain and the Christian Democrats with the task of building a ruling coalition.
Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende said it would be difficult to assemble a majority coalition.
"The negotiations are going to be difficult. There are different possibilities, but that's something for the coming days," he said.
With 99.7 percent of the votes counted, the Christian Democrats had 44 parliamentary seats to Labor's 42 in the 150-member chamber, according to state-financed broadcasting network NOS.
The free-market Liberal Party, the third partner in the outgoing coalition, had 28 seats.
Labor, which lost half its support and was ousted from power in last May's election, made a remarkable recovery from its previous 23 seats.
"The voter has spoken, and clearly, for a stable, progressive Cabinet," Labor Party leader Wouter Bos told cheering supporters.
Mr. Bos said Labor would "work to avoid a war against Iraq." He is the first major party leader to clearly oppose military action against Iraq, a subject that went largely undiscussed during the campaign.
The outgoing government said it would support U.S.-led action in Iraq if it were approved by the U.N. Security Council.
The party of murdered anti-immigration populist Pim Fortuyn, who was killed just days before the May 15 election, was reduced to eight seats, after winning a stunning 26 seats last year.
The results meant Mr. Balkenende, a 46-year-old former university lecturer and political researcher, was likely to remain prime minister.
He resigned in October after less than three months in office and called a new election when infighting among Mr. Fortuyn's followers paralyzed the three-party coalition.
Mr. Balkenende has said he hoped to return to office together with the Liberals, but it was clear the two parties alone could not achieve a majority. He also has said he did not want to take Fortuyn's List party in his Cabinet again.
The Christian Democrats and Labor could join forces in an uncomfortable alliance, as they did in the 1980s, though Mr. Balkenende said he would avoid that.
A Labor-led coalition governed for eight years until 2002, during which the Netherlands prospered economically and introduced policies such as legalized euthanasia and homosexual marriages.
But under Prime Minister Wim Kok, Labor was blamed for poor public services and for the result of Dutch troops' mission to protect Muslims against a Serbian onslaught in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica in 1995. Thousands were killed while Dutch troops stood by.
The 2002 election was roiled by the unexpected popularity of Mr. Fortuyn, a dynamic, homosexual former academic who tapped into the unspoken public fears about rising crime and a growing Muslim immigrant population that refused to accept the liberal Dutch attitudes toward homosexuality.
Now, all mainstream parties have co-opted Mr. Fortuyn's policies of limiting new immigration, compelling immigrants to integrate into Dutch society, and cracking down on crime. Mr. Fortuyn also revived public enthusiasm for Dutch politics, which for voters had become lifeless and predictable in recent years.
"Voting hasn't been this much fun in years," said Akke de Blauw, 53, an Amsterdam university employee, before casting her vote yestetday. "The politicians seem to be listening to the voters again."
Among smaller leftist parties, the Socialist Party won nine seats and the Green-Left won eight. The centrist D66 party won 6. Three parties split the rest.
Among the new members elected to parliament was a 33-year-old former refugee from Somalia, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who fled to the Netherlands 10 years ago.

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