June 29, 2006

Dutch government collapses over minister row

By Wendel Broere

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter
Balkenende announced the resignation of his centre-right
government on Thursday after a row over the immigration
minister prompted a party to quit the ruling coalition.

The smallest government member, D66, had withdrawn its
support and its two ministers resigned over Immigration
Minister Rita Verdonk's handling of a probe into the
citizenship of a Somali-born Dutch politician.

"Following this, the remaining ministers and junior
ministers decided to tender their positions to the head of
state, the queen. This also counts for me," Balkenende said on

His government, the third since 2002, is deeply unpopular
as public disquiet has risen about immigration and security
compounded by budget cuts and an unpopular new health insurance
scheme, but the economy is now recovering and unemployment is

Elections, initially scheduled for May 2007, could take
place in September at the earliest. D66, performing poorly in
polls whereas its larger coalition partners are climbing
higher, has long been seeking to boost its profile.

Verdonk, nicknamed "Iron Rita" for her forthright views and
tough policies on immigration issues, came under pressure to
resign after she had threatened to strip Somali-born Dutch
politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali of Dutch citizenship for lying about
her name, age and refugee status on arrival in the Netherlands
in 1992.

Hirsi Ali has been living under tight security after an
Islamist militant killed filmmaker Theo van Gogh, who directed
a film for which she wrote the script that accused Islam of
suppressing women.

The murder of the outspoken filmmaker in 2004 stoked
hostility toward Muslim immigrants.


"This crisis is still about the legacy of Pim Fortuyn and a
restructuring of political leadership to the right of the
center," said Philip van Praag, associate professor of
political science at Amsterdam University.

Populist politician Pim Fortuyn tapped into simmering
anti-establishment sentiment before an animal rights activist
killed him in 2002.

"Part of the electorate still sees Verdonk as a direct
heiress of Pim Fortuyn and she is attracting voters," said Van
Praag who estimated she accounted for one third of VVD seats.

A poll on Sunday showed the Christian Democrats would lose
a fifth of its seats, a smaller loss than in earlier polls, and
the D66 half its seats, while the VVD Liberals' fortunes were
looking up.

The opposition Labour party would become the largest party
with 44 seats and the Socialists would win nine seats.

D66 pulled the plug on its support for the government after
the rejection of a bill of no confidence against Verdonk
earlier on Thursday, the last day before parliament's summer

Without the D66, the VVD Liberals and the Christian
Democrats no longer had a majority in parliament.

"A rift was created with my party and I feel there is no
other way but to withdraw support for this government," D66
party leader Lousewies van der Laan said.

Hirsi Ali had resigned from parliament last month and said
she would leave the country after Verdonk threatened to strip
her of citizenship.

Verdonk reversed her decision after Hirsi Ali submitted a
statement saying she had not intended to lie to authorities and
that her chosen name, Hirsi Ali, was valid because it was taken
from her grandfather according to Somali customs.

Her given name before arriving in the Netherlands was Ayaan
Hirsi Magan. Hirsi Ali, who needs a passport to get a visa to
work at a conservative think tank in the United States,
afterwards said she had signed the statement under pressure in
order to keep her Dutch passport.