'Iron Lady' Rita launches populist party

4th April 2008, Comments 0 comments

The former immigration minister says her Proud of the Netherlands party will concentrate on traditional Dutch values that are increasingly under threat.

4 April 2008

THE NETHERLANDS - Former immigration minister Rita Verdonk launched her own political party with US-style razzamatazz and accompanying publicity on Thursday.

She says her Proud of the Netherlands party will concentrate on preserving the national character. According to the right-wing firebrand, traditional Dutch values such as freedom of expression and tolerance are under threat.

Verdonk says many people feel the Dutch way life is under pressure and that Dutch people are increasingly being forced to adapt to foreign cultures. Listing her proposed policies, she mentioned compulsory re-education of juvenile delinquents and a two-thirds reduction in development aid. She emphasised that Proud of the Netherlands was open to a wide membership, and that the party would not have a bureaucratic structure or stifling party rules.

Verdonk first hit the public spotlight in 2003 when, as a conservative VVD member of the cabinet, she announced her intention to expel no fewer than 26,000 asylum seekers.

In 2006, she caused political turmoil by revealing that her fellow conservative MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali had used a false name when applying for Dutch nationality. Hirsi Ali was subsequently forced to give up her parliamentary seat and moved to the United States.

Following the VVD's poor showing in the last election, in which she actually won more votes than party leader Mark Rutte, she began attacking VVD policy. She repeatedly clashed in public with Rutte, insisting that the party's stance on issues such as radical Muslims and immigration should be tougher.

She was finally forced to resign her VVD party membership in October 2007 and decided to form her own party. Commentators say Proud of the Netherlands will be competing for the right-wing vote not only with the VVD but also with Geert Wilders' Freedom Party.

[Radio Netherlands / Expatica]

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