June 30, 2006

Dutch government collapses after party abandons coalition

By Wendel Broere

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Dutch prime minister Jan Peter
Balkenende is set to hand in his government's resignation on
Friday, after the ruling coalition fell apart over the handling
of the citizenship of a Somali-born Dutch lawmaker.

The third collapse of a government since 2002 comes amid
rising public concerns over immigration and security. Such
concerns helped Balkenende's centre-right government take
power, albeit through a fragile coalition, in 2003.

New elections are expected as early as September or
October, well before their scheduled date of May 2007, that
could see another swing to the left.

In local elections three months ago, Dutch voters backed
leftwing parties, rejecting anti-immigration populists and
ruling centre-right parties blamed for an economic slump.

Political parties have been jockeying to take credit for
the beginnings of an economic upswing and improving

D66, the small party which pulled out of the government,
has been performing poorly in polls whereas its larger
coalition partners are climbing higher. It has long been
seeking to boost its flagging profile.

A poll published by Interview NSS/NOVA on Thursday showed
Balkenende's Christian Democrats would lose six of their 44
seats, and the D66 half its seats, while the VVD Liberals would
gain three seats if elections were held now.

That would make the opposition Labour party the largest
party with 42 seats. Labour's likely closest allies, the
Socialists and Green Left, would also stand to gain.

The trigger for the government collapse was Immigration
Minister Rita Verdonk's threat to revoke the Dutch citizenship
of Ayaan Hirsi Ali after the popular politician admitted to
lying about her name, age and refugee status on her arrival in
the Netherlands in 1992.

Verdonk withdrew the threat 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.

D66 pulled the plug on the ruling coalition at the end of a
two-day debate saying Verdonk's policies and actions went
beyond the limits of public credibility.

Hirsi Ali has been living under tight security after an
Islamist militant killed filmmaker Theo van Gogh, who directed
her film accusing Islam of suppressing women.

The murder of the outspoken filmmaker in 2004 stoked
hostility toward Muslim immigrants and heightened the public's
concerns over immigration.