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Netherlands Vote Unpredictable - 2002-05-15

Dutch voters are going to the polls Wednesday to choose a new government, just nine days after the shooting death of anti-immigrant politician Pim Fortuyn. The elections are seen as the most unpredictable in the Netherlands in years.

Outgoing Prime Minister Wim Kok called on the nation to use its common sense at the polls. Emotions are high, he said in a television interview the day before elections, but added, "this is about the future of our society."

Exactly what that future will look like, though, is anybody's guess. Opinion polls show the LPF, the party of slain leader Pim Fortuyn, is expected to be among the top vote-getters, despite the loss of its charismatic leader or even any named replacement for him.

But whether the LPF will be able to form a coalition with the Christian Democrats, which pre-election polls put in first place, or with any other party, still is not known. Polls also show a clear defeat for the current governing coalition, headed by Labor.

The only given in Wednesday's vote is a shift to the right, as the Dutch mirror a trend seen throughout Europe. Pim Fortuyn's tough-on-crime, anti-immigration platform - and the way he delivered it - have clearly resonated with Dutch voters, many whom are scared and angry at a government they see as unresponsive.

Ironically perhaps, this anti-government vote comes at a time when the Netherlands has never been in better economic shape: unemployment is down and growth and the standard of living are up.

Heikelina Verryn Stuart is a lawyer and commentator for Dutch radio and television. She says the coming years will be either great fun or a total disaster.

"What could happen is that we grow up at last, stop behaving like rich children and we start thinking about huge problems that are here," said Ms. Stuart. "So, it could be a shake-up. We could get rid of politicians just sitting there for power, playing games, and forgetting about people. So it could be a way towards maturity. But it depends on how much room there is. If it becomes a randomly violent country, we'll have some nasty years ahead."

Pim Fortuyn was shot dead last week in the parking lot of a radio station where he had just given an interview. A lone suspect, who is an animal rights activist, has been charged with his murder.

The Dutch government on Tuesday ordered an inquiry into security issues surrounding Mr. Fortuyn, who still heads his party's ballot despite his death.

Results should be in by midnight, Dutch time (2200 UTC) in an election where voter turnout is said to be high.