The Netherlands - Leadership

The fatigue and turmoil in the outgoing "purple coalition" provided the CDA under the leadership of Balkenende a perfect opportunity to return to power. Unlike the leaders of the PvdA (Labor) and VVD (Liberal) parties, Balkenende never snubbed or demonized his controversial opponent, Pim Fortuyn. In fact, he led the CDA (Christian Democrats) into a 180-degree shift and repudiated the country's multicultural approach to immigration. Newcomers, Balkenende declared, should assimilate into Dutch culture. After May 2002, it became clear that Balkenede's strategy had worked because the CDA won the election while the Labor party suffered a record loss in Dutch parliamentary elections. The Liberal party also fared badly, going from 38 to 23 seats. As the largest party (with 44 seats), the Christian Democrats were asked to put together a coalition. They accomplished this by striking government agreements with the Liberal party and Fortuyn's new LPF. Balkenende's first cabinet, however, was mostly known for its internal divisions due to feuding within the LPF, which suffered from a leadership vacuum after Fortuyn was assassinated.

Balkenende's government fell in October and then awaited new elections scheduled for January. In January 2003, the CDA won 44 seats and narrowly beat the Labor party, which made a remarkable comeback, winning 42 seats. Balkenende faced difficult coalition choices. He would have preferred a coalition without Labor since they disagreed on issues such as health and education. However, the Liberal party did not obtain enough votes to create a majority and Balkenende hesitated to recreate a coalition with the weakened LPF, which went from 26 to 8 seats and was rudderless and feuding. Without much choice, the CDA and Labor entered into lengthy and protracted negotiations to hammer out a coalition agreement that outlined the objectives of the government for the next four years. Cuts in social programs and health care are some of the main impediments as are divergent views on foreign policy and tax policy.

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