Who will be the people's champion now?

27th July 2006, Comments 0 comments

We ask who is waiting in the wings to take up the populist banner for the general election in November now that Leefbaar Nederland and the LPF are on the way out.

Pim Fortuyn - lost leader?

It looked as if the traditional political parties in the Netherlands were in trouble in the early part of the decade. After eight years of the consensus driven 'Purple' coalition between Labour (PvdA), Liberals (VVD) and Democrat D66, ordinary people in the street felt locked out from the corridors of power in The Hague - and they were ready to force themselves back in.

The Trojan horse was to be a new kind of party, Leefbaar Nederland (Liveable Netherlands - LN). Founded in 1999 by Jan Nagel and Henk Westbroek of the successful Leefbaar parties in Hilversum and Utrecht, LN wasn't going to be fettered by either left or right-wing philosophies.

The main elements of its programme for the general election in May 2002 were: more of a say for ordinary people (at the expense of the traditional parties); less bureaucracy; and a more balanced (selective) asylum policy.

Having the outspoken 'professor' and writer Pim Fortuyn at the helm significantly increased the party's appeal. Early predictions were that LN could win up to 20 seats.

Pim factor

But everything went wrong three months before the election when the party executive sacked Fortuyn after he called for an end to immigration and for the removal of the anti-discrimination clause from the Constitution. Prosecutor Fred Teeven replaced Fortuyn as leader.

LN won two seats while Fortuyn's new political party, Lijst Pim Fortuyn (LPF), won 28 of the 150 seats in parliament. Although Fortuyn was assassinated nine days before the election, his party joined a centre-right coalition in triumph.

The celebrations were short-lived. The government collapsed ignominiously 87 days later due to LPF infighting. The LPF managed to hang on to eight seats in the subsequent election in January 2003. Leefbaar Nederland lost both its seats.

Opinion polls have consistently suggested the LPF, which has been reduced to six seats by further wrangling, will join LN on the political scrap heap after the election next November.

Hit by a serious debt problem, LN has decided to dissolve; the LPF has chosen to fight on and appoint a "big name" to lead its election campaign. Yet it faces competition from a host of other groups and personalities who hope to capture the 'people's vote'. Here's a rundown of the main contenders:

Geert Wilders

Geert Wilders - his hair has a life of its own

A Conservative with an striking coiffure, Wilders (42) from the south-eastern city of Venlo presents himself as the natural successor to Pim Fortuyn - the new voice of the common man and woman of the Netherlands.

Wilders is probably the second best known Dutch politician internationally after Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Both are former members of the Liberal Party (VVD), both are critics of fundamentalist Islam, both are against immigration from Muslim countries, and both had to go into hiding after Muslim Mohammed Bouyeri murdered filmmaker Theo van Gogh in November 2004.

Two months before the killing, Wilders split with the Liberals over the party support for EU-accession talks with Turkey. He recently set up the Partij van de Vrijheid (Party of the Freedom) to contest the election in November.

As has occurred frequently since Leefbaar Nederland rocked political certainties in the Netherlands, opinion polls were wildly enthusiast about the latest political contender. Wilders was tipped to win anything up to 30 seats. More recent surveys suggest he may get eight seats - still impressive for a new party.

Marco Pastors

Marco Pastors - 'Pim' stripe suits are his trademark

Given to wearing pinstripe suits in imitation of Fortuyn, Marco Pastors, 40, is a man with a mission - to bring the 'Rotterdam approach' - law & order, and compulsory integration for immigrants to the rest of the country.

Pastors took over the leadership of Leefbaar Rotterdam after Fortuyn was murdered. The Fortuyn revolution began in the local elections two months before the national poll.

Although Leefbaar Rotterdam was the largest group on t

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