Netherlands Government Collapses

By Anthony Deutsch, The Associated Press, Wednesday 16 October 2002

THE HAGUE, Netherlands—The Dutch government collapsed Wednesday after just 12 weeks in office, brought down by a power struggle in the anti-immigration party that has convulsed national politics since the assassination of its leader shortly before elections.

Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende told Parliament his conservative coalition was unworkable, and he had decided to submit his resignation to Queen Beatrix, a formality likely to happen later in the day.

The resignation set the stage for new elections within three months, making Balkenende's government the briefest since World War II.

I came to the conclusion that no further fruitful, long-lasting partnership is possible within the coalition, Balkenende said in a prepared statement. Therefore, I plan to offer the (Cabinet's) resignation to the queen.

The collapse also could mean the virtual demise of the Pim Fortuyn's List party, or LPF, which thundered into the Dutch political scene early this year on a platform of curbing immigration and crime.

Its founder, Pim Fortuyn, was murdered nine days before the May 15 election that swept his party into a second-place finish on a wave of sympathy.

Recent polls suggest the LPF has lost nearly all its public support, and would retain just a few of the 26 seats in the 150-member Parliament. Those same polls indicate that Balkenende's Christian Democrats and its other coalition partner, the free-market Liberals, or VVD, would both gain, possibly winning enough to form a government without the LPF.

Balkenende said the crisis began to spiral out of control Friday, when a dispute between two Cabinet ministers reached the point where the two other coalition partners lost faith in the unstable upstart party, Pim Fortuyn's List.

Hours before he spoke, the two feuding ministers separately announced their resignations in hopes of salvaging the government, but the move failed to avert the collapse.

I did everything I could to resolve the conflict between the two ministers, but I wasn't successful, the prime minister said, after a day of hasty consultations.

Other European government's were closely watching the political drama in the Netherlands, as a critical decision approached on whether to admit new members into the 15-nation European Union. The Dutch had taken a hard line against admitting all 10 applicants from eastern Europe.

The outgoing foreign minister, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, said the EU decision-making process on expansion would go on. NATO and the EU will not wait for the Netherlands, he said, although it was not clear how much influence the Dutch will have with only a caretaker government.

Gerrit Zalm, a leader of the VVD, called for elections quickly as possible, perhaps as early as January.

The LPF is no longer a partner we can trust, and we want new elections, preferably as soon as possible. It's gone far enough with all this bickering. It's time to let the people speak, he said, speaking shortly before Balkenende addressed the legislature.

Jeltje van Nieuwehoven, a leader of the opposition Labor party, said elections were inevitable, and should be held as soon as possible. As far as I'm concerned, the new campaign has already begun, she told Dutch television.