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New Dutch government takes shape

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands -- The Netherlands' dramatic and sudden electoral switch from liberal-socialism to conservatism is being finalised as the country's victorious Christian Democrats (CDA) begin forming a government.

The ruling centre-left Labour party suffered its worst defeat since World War II in a momentous election dominated by voter concerns over crime, immigration and public services.

CDA leader Jan Peter Balkenende, set to head a new coalition government, said Wednesday's poll victory had surpassed all expectations. (Profile)

"It's been an unbelievable evening. The CDA is back," he told jubilant supporters in the Hague. "In just a few months we have shown the vitality of Christian Democracy."

After winning broad gains in this week's election, the Dutch right wing now looks for consensus with rivals. CNN's Chris Burns reports (May 16)

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Party leader with Harry Potter looks 
In-depth: Netherlands Decides 2002 
Seats in parliament:
Christian Democrats43
Pim Fortuyn List26
People's Party23
Green Left11
Socialist Party9
Liveable Netherlands2
Source: Reuters

The result shattered the hopes of the incumbent Labour party which, until the murder on May 6 of the right-wing political leader Pim Fortuyn, had looked set to be re-elected.

But the outpouring of sympathy and grief following Fortuyn's death saw voters drawn to immigration, crime and anti-establishment issues rather than Labour's eight-year record of economic prosperity.

The result extended to the usually-liberal Netherlands the Europe-wide trend that has seen left-leaning governments tumble in Italy, Denmark, Portugal and France over the last year.

Labour campaign manager Jacques Monasch admitted: "It's a disastrous result. It's beyond a landslide."

Outgoing Prime Minister Wim Kok said: "Let's be realistic. The voters gave us a huge thrashing. The people of the Netherlands have made a different choice."

He added: "These are difficult times for social democracy, not just in the Netherlands, but also elsewhere in Europe."

After 88 percent of votes cast had been counted, the CDA had won 43 seats in the 150-member parliament while the three-month-old anti-immigration Pim Fortuyn List (LPF) came second with 26 seats.

"This is fantastic," said Mat Herben, a former journalist who was elected as the new leader of the LPF within hours of the result.

"I hope we will be able to reach a government agreement," he said.

Asked if he would team up with Fortuyn's party, Balkenende said: "Looking at the results, the voters have given a clear signal. But we'll have to discuss proposals and stability, especially with LPF."

The VVD, the former coalition partner, is tipped to be a third member in a new coalition government. A combination of the CDA, VVD and LPF would have a comfortable parliamentary majority with 92 seats.

Coalition building in the fragmented Dutch political arena is slow process and often takes two to three months.

Balkenende, a 46-year-old professor of Christian philosophy who has been likened to Harry Potter in appearance, has voiced distaste with the Dutch policies allowing euthanasia, gay marriages and tolerance of soft drugs.

He told cheering supporters he was ready to begin forming a government. "Citizens want a different kind of politics," he said.

Although Balkenende and most of his party opposed legislation last year to legalise euthanasia and gay marriages, his spokesman said he would not try to repeal those laws. "Balkenende sees it as an irreversible fact," said Hans van der Vlies.

However, Balkenende has said he supports moves to end the sale of marijuana in hundreds of coffee-shops, a practice that is technically illegal but not prosecuted. But he admits that may take many years.

Fortuyn, 54, who tapped a groundswell of discontent with the ruling politicians and the country's swelling immigrant population, was shot dead on May 6 by a lone gunman after a campaign radio interview.

Volkert van der Graaf, 32, a vegan animal rights campaigner, was remanded in custody on May 9 charged with Fortuyn's murder. (Full story).


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