Nine months before the May 2002 election, Jan Peter Balkenende was the largely anonymous number two in the CDA. After his appointment as party leader in October 2001, he was credited with steering his party to a landslide victory in the 2002 general elections. Originally, when he became party leader, the print media dismissed him as a man without leadership qualities. He was labeled "the professor," and described as "lacking media personality." Since he succeeded Jaap de Hoop Scheffer after a vicious leadership crisis within the party, his ability to build consensus was questioned. Apparently, he was given the number one position for wont of a better candidate and he was widely regarded as a transitory figure.
Undeterred by persistent remarks about his stiff appearance, Balkenende steered a straight course as he tried to strengthen his party. He surprised many of his critics with his no-nonsense and natural leadership style. Owing to the fact that he deliberately expressed no preference for any party as a possible partner within a future coalition government, he did not automatically exclude the controversial List Pim Fortuyn (LPF). Dutch voters apparently rewarded Balkenende for "interacting normally" with populist Pim Fortuyn and ensured that the CDA became the largest party after the May 2002 election. Nevertheless, when coalition negotiations began after the May election, Balkenende insisted that the List Pim Fortuyn retract some of its more controversial positions—such as that Islam is a backward culture. Thanks to his leadership, the CDA emerged as a viable alternative to the ruling "purple" center-left coalition. His first government fell after 78 days because of tensions inside the LPF and new elections were held in January 2003. Voters again expressed their approval of Balkenende's leadership by giving the party about the same number of seats in Parliament as before.