Pim Fortuyn’s Legacy Totters To Its End

What would you call a political party whose representatives in the national legislature repudiate party leadership and the party name? Which can’t find any way to pay around €200,000 in debts? You’d call it a dead political party, for sure. And this is the case with the Dutch party LPF, whose eight members in the Tweede Kamer announced Tuesday afternoon that they had repudiated their party membership. “LPF” stands for Lijst Pim Fortuyn, so anyone wondering what became of the legacy of that Dutch politician, himself assassinated in May, 2002, just before a general election, can know that it has all come to this rather sorry end.

An article in yesterday’s Het Parool by Addie Schulte best describes the LPF’s current advanced state of disintegration, with a very apt title: The LPF, Squabbling From Beginning to End. In its mere two years of existence, the LPF has had four different governing administrations, with sixteen different leaders. And each such shuffling of the leadership pack has been accompanied, as Schulte writes, “with accusations, exchanges of insults, and threats.” The latest such incident involved two of the top four party officials simply removing the other two from their functions, without informing anyone. With that, they ceased being on speaking terms with any of the eight LPF representatives in the legislature. And now that those eight have finally turned in their membership cards, there’s nothing left to the LPF except that management, some scattered local officials who still claim party affiliation, around 2,200 party members – and the unpayable debts, which a judge recently refused to allow the party into bankruptcy to avoid paying. And, as reported in a later NRC Handelsblad article (Real Estate Entrepreneurs Make and Break the LPF), those debts are mainly to businessmen who seemingly tried to influence LPF policies in return for their money.

A HISTORY OF INTERNAL STRIFE

But back to Ms. Schulte: as she correctly points out, “the LPF came into existence in an atmosphere of quarrel and conflict and never was able to leave that behind.” That’s certainly true: the LPF was of course originally founded by Pim Fortuyn himself in early 2002, as a personal vehicle for gaining political power by way of what were then the upcoming national elections after his break from the insurgent party he originally was using for his political rise, Leefbaar Rotterdam/Leefbaar Nederland (“Liveable Rotterdam/Liveable Netherlands”; the former party still exists). With this he took advantage of the fact that Dutch political parties involve “lists” of candidates that need have no sort of geographic basis or spread at all. All that was (and remains) necessary was whatever sort of appeal that could move enough of the electorate to vote for his party, new or old. Fortuyn certainly had that heading into May, 2002, as he took the country by storm with his unconventional – and to many even shocking – statements about the alleged inferiority of Islam, the damage to Dutch society brought about by a too-liberal immigration and asylum policy, the gap of incomprehension between the people and the caste of politicians who purported to represent them, and similar such subjects.

The crucial fact, though, was that Fortuyn was shot dead on May 6, 2002, nine days before the scheduled elections. What was left of the Lijst Pim Fortuyn without Pim Fortuyn himself? We know now: simply a bunch of nobodies, also-rans, and opportunists who grabbed hold of this chance for for fame, political influence, and yes, a Tweede Kamer member’s salary. This all while constantly engaging in unseemly squabbling with their fellow charlatans, like thieves arguing over the loot, about what the Master would have done or said in a given situation.

But it’s not like the Dutch people did not have an inkling of what was going on much earlier; after all, it was mainly this sort of squabbling that brought down the “Balkenende I” cabinet at the end of 2002, mere months after it had been formed in the wake of the elections that immediately followed Fortuyn’s assassination. Then, this sort of behavior by LPF personnel could have such serious consequences as bringing down a government because the LPF formed a part of that government, having come in second in those May elections with 17% of the vote and so having gained 26 seats in the Tweede Kamer. It was a definite instance of poetic justice that this behavior then enabled the Dutch electorate to take stock of the party again in elections in January, 2003, which resulted in the LPF fraction in the legislature being cut down from 26 to 8, and to the LPF being shut out of government and so all its antics being shunted off to a political side-show, whose run might now be coming to an end.

ANTI-MADRID

That whole experience in the first instance has to be an endorsement of the parliamentary system of democratic government which enables elections to happen because they are needed – because a government has fallen apart, or for whatever reason no longer is seen fit to govern by the legislature. (On the other hand, elections under presidential systems take place only when they’re scheduled. In the US, to take a prominent example, the smallest interval between the electorate being hoodwinked by some candidate or political party and its being able to correct that with a subsequent election is the two-year term in office of members of the House of Representatives.)

More importantly than that, though, the Dutch May, 2002, elections have to be seen as an “anti-Madrid.” Those Spanish elections of last March that confounded the experts by throwing out the Conservatives (José Maria Aznar’s Partido Popular) in favor of the Socialists have rightly or wrongly been viewed as capitulation to terrorist intervention in the democratic process; the Madrid train-bombing attacks occurred a few days before, and sure enough, the Spanish electorate supposedly “bowed to the terrorists’ demands” by electing officials who had made it clear that they would pull Spanish troops out of Iraq. The Dutch May, 2002, elections were just the opposite: the leader of a brand-new party was assassinated just before, but much of the Dutch electorate showed itself to be determined not to allow some murderer to dictate to it which parties were to be available to vote for and which not; in their determination not to let the assassin “win” they made the LPF the second-most popular party. But the fact is, the assassin did “win” just as soon as Pim Fortuyn expired in his pool of blood in that Hilversum media-complex parking-lot. Without him there was really nothing there left under the “LPF” label worth voting for, and the triggerman had in fact effectively removed that label from the ballot – it just took a while (and some unseemly antics, and the premature fall of a government, meaning the expense and trouble for elections all over again) for the Dutch to realize this.

ON THE COMEBACK TRAIL?

Admittedly, the last word on this question has not yet been said, as there still exist a handfull of die-hard “Fortuynists” who are now seeing about forming “a new Fortuynistically-tinted party,” reports another NRC Handelsblad article (Fortuynists Work on a New Party). The strategy here is apparently return-to-the-2002-roots, with the eight (former) LPF Tweede Kamer members linking up with what remains of Leefbaar Rotterdam to form a federation of local Leefbaar parties under a new name – and, of course, with a delegation to boast of in the national legislature, at least until the next general election. It’s that next election, of course, which could likely bring down the final curtain on this “Fortuynistical” sideshow that seemingly just doesn’t want to die – and more generally on the tangible political legacy of Pim Fortuyn, or at least on the clique claiming that mantle. But if anything, this entire tale has alarming implications for those worried about some terrorist outrage perpetrated by al-Qaeda in the US just before November’s general election there. Acceding to what are deduced to be the terrorists’ aims is likely to be the wrong thing for the American electorate to do; but voting contrary to those aims could be the wrong thing to do as well.

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