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Exit polls show big victories for Dutch opposition parties

Thursday, May 16, 2002

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands -- Dutch opposition parties were the big winners in Wednesday's elections, exit polls showed, including the Christian Democrats and the movement of a slain populist candidate.

The Christian Democrats, who were in every Dutch government after World War II until they lost power in 1994, took 40 of the 150 seats in parliament, the initial polls showed. In a bigger upset, Pim Fortuyn's List took 26 seats.

The results of the exit poll, broadcast on the official NOS television station, said Prime Minister Wim Kok's socialists and the Liberals, Kok's coalition allies for the last eight years, each won 24 seats.

The projected results would represent a resounding defeat for Kok, whose government brought the Dutch unequaled growth since 1994 but was punished for ignoring public concerns about drugs, immigration, welfare abuse and lax law enforcement. Fortuyn brought those issues to the forefront, tapping into a groundswell of discontent with Holland's ruling politicians and their tolerant policies.

He was killed May 6 by a single gunman after doing a campaign radio interview. He was 54. His murder shocked this country of 16 million that is a stranger to political violence and has long prided itself on no-ripple consensus politics.

The projected outcome was a surprisingly strong victory for the right-wing Christian Democrats. Earlier polls had suggested they would win by a narrow margin over the two major parties of the outgoing coalition, the Labor Party and the Liberals -- and over Fortuyn's untested followers.

Professor for premier

The elections thrust Christian philosophy professor Jan Peter Balkenende. 46, into the role as the likely prime minister-to-be, just eight months after he took over the party.

"Citizens want a different kind of politics," Balkenende said in a first reaction at his party's election headquarters in The Hague.

He said he was ready to lead government formation talks. "I will not shrug my responsibility. We will put our ideas forward, and we will see with whom we can reach an agreement."

Fortuyn's slaying left the movement that bears his name leaderless, raising questions about how durable it will be. The performance of his upstart party, formally known as Pim Fortuyn's List, was all the more remarkable since it did not exist three months ago.

The exit poll indicated Fortuyn's party, the Liberals and the Christian Democrats could marshal a comfortable parliamentary majority for a right-wing government, yet an agreement on a government program would likely be tough to find.

At the outset of voting, Kok told voters that his eight years at the helm brought them "formidable" growth and prosperity. He said the elections "are about my legacy."

In the end, they were more about the legacy of Fortuyn -- the openly gay, ex-university professor who was a harsh critic of the government's permissiveness of welfare abusers and tolerant asylum, drug and law enforcement policies.


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