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Dutch Election Heated After Murder of Right-Wing Politician - 2002-05-14

On the eve of Dutch general elections, the party of slain political leader Pim Fortuyn is up in the polls as the current governing coalition prepares for defeat. The elections come just a little over a week after the murder of the far-right politician whose views and death have shaped the agenda for Wednesday's vote.

This year's general elections are anything but normal. Fear, blame, and uncertainty now abound in what is normally a predictable changing - or reshuffling - of the guard. Campaigning may have stopped in the wake of Pim Fortuyn's murder, but the mud-slinging and political posturing more familiar in other country's elections than in the Dutch's have reached new heights.

On Monday, the new chairman of Pim Fortuyn's party blamed the current government for his leader's murder, saying the "bullet came from the left, not from the right." That was enough to draw a reaction from the outgoing prime minister, Wim Kok, who said he was appalled at the official's comments. In the end, the Fortuyn official, Peter Langedon, also regretted the comments. He resigned Tuesday in a sign of just how turbulent this election has become.

For the first time, top politicians have been assigned bodyguards. But if opinion polls are anything to go by, than Pim Fortuyn's party will be a powerful force to be reckoned with. The first major poll since the politician's murder shows Pim Fortuyn's List in second place behind the conservative Christian Democrats, who have been in the opposition for the past eight years.

That same poll shows support for the prime minister's Labor Party down by half from what it was in the last elections - meaning the Netherlands could be headed for a right-wing coalition.

Heikelina Verryn Stuart is a lawyer and commentator for Dutch radio and television. She attributes the popularity of anti-immigration, tough-on-crime politicians to a combination of real fear and a sense many people have that the government is ignoring them.

"We never had, apart from some tiny splinter groups, we never had official right-wing political parties. There was always this approach of massaging them out of the political system again without too much to do. But now they are there, and there's this incredibly large amount of people who are so full of resentment about anything - not just government but neighbors, etc. They have an outlet now," she said.

People will know soon enough. Polls open early Wednesday morning and by midnight, the final results should be in.