Lousewies in political wonderland

29th June 2006, Comments 0 comments

Out-going D66 leader Lousewies van der Laan drops a bomb-shell by withdrawing support for the government on the last day before the summer recess. But the Cabinet - including two D66 ministers - oppose her contention that the government is finished. Welcome to the complicated world of Dutch politics.

Lousewies van der Laan has taken on the Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende

Whoever said Dutch politics is boring obviously hadn't bargained with the ladies. While the male politicians may prefer back-room deals and compromise, several female members have turned the whole system on its head.

Rita Verdonk of the Liberal Party (VVD) has driven a coach-and-four through the image of the Netherlands as a tolerant country. The Immigration Minister has imposed the restrictive immigration and asylum policies found anywhere.

Former Liberal MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali voiced harsh criticism of fundamentalist Islam that would have been unthinkable a few years ago. She could get away with it because she was born a Muslim in Somalia.

And when Hirsi Ali and Verdonk's interests clashed, the result was a Cabinet crisis. Verdonk, who was hoping to be elected to lead the VVD, cast doubt on whether Hirsi Ali was a Dutch citizen.

Parliament rounded on Verdonk and she was forced to clobber together a formula to ensure Hirsi Ali kept her Dutch citizenship, while Verdonk, who didn't get the Liberal leadership, saved face. The result was a mea culpa written by Verdonk's officials and signed by Hirsi Ali.

Enter Femke Halsema, the leader of the green-left GroenLinks. Incensed by Verdonk's cheek, GroenLinks tabled a motion of no confidence in Verdonk.

Lousewies van der Laan, the out-going leader of the parliamentary party of D66, supported the motion. It was defeated but the damage had been done. D66, as a member of the centre-right coalition government, demanded either Verdonk resigned or D66 would collapse the government.

The Cabinet played tough; it wasn't going to be killed off by a mere woman. Christian Democrat Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende announced at 4pm on Thursday that the defeated motion had no consequences for his government.

The rub was that the two D66 ministers sided with the government against Van der Laan and the party's MPs. One of the ministers, Alexander Pechtold, recently beat Van der Laan in the election to be the new leader of D66's parliamentary party.

The media was reporting a few hours earlier that the D66 ministers supported her. The situation then became really bizarre. A woman scorned, Van der Laan announced D66 was withdrawing support for the government.

She said Balkenende had to go to the Queen to seek a dissolution of parliament. This came as most MPs were dreaming of another dissolution — the summer recess.
Suddenly, all thoughts of holiday were swept away. The issue was now whether the government was dead.

Rita Verdonk sparked the crisis

Maxime Verhagen, the Christian Democrat leader in parlaiment, was of the opinion that it isn't. Van der Laan, he said, had to turn her fire first on her own male ministers who seemed to have switched their affections from their own party for the comfortable Cabinet seats in a matter of hours. Table a motion of no confidence in your own ministers first, Verhagen told Van der Laan.

Wouter Bos, of the Labour Party, sided with Van der Laan and said the Cabinet had lost support and was finished. The male members of parliament all had an opinion, for or against this position. Meanwhile, the two women who sparked this crisis - Verdonk and Hirsi Ali - were strangely silent.

Van der Laan, the woman of the hour, was left with several major questions to answer: is there still a government and does she have the support of her own party in this extraordinary situation? Welcome to the bizarre world of Dutch politics in the Netherlands.

UPDATE: Balkenende announced the collapse of the government shortly after 8.30pm on Thursday.

[Copyright Expatica 2006]

Subject: Dutch news

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