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Victorious Christian Democrats Form New Dutch Government - 2002-05-16

The day after extraordinary Dutch elections that saw the ouster of the center-left ruling coalition and a swing to the right, all sides are getting down to business. The leaders of the winning parties meet with the Dutch Queen Thursday to start piecing together the next government.

"A monster victory" is what some Dutch newspapers are calling the conservative Christian Democrats' landslide win in Wednesday's general elections. By gaining 43 seats out of a possible 150, the Christian Democrats are by far the largest party in the parliament. They now face the task of forming the next government.

But it is the stunning success of the List Pim Fortuyn, the party of slain right-wing populist Pim Fortuyn, that has rocked the political landscape of a country where elections normally fail to excite.

Just three months ago, the LPF didn't even exist. Now, after winning 26 seats on Wednesday, it's the second largest party in the country. But its members have little political experience, and many here see them as a volatile group, without a cohesive ideology or any clear policies. Regardless, this is the group that the Christian Democrats may choose to form a coalition with.

Jan Peter Balkenende, the leader of the Christian Democrats, who may well be the country's next prime minister, acknowledges that voter support for the LPF sent a clear signal. Still, he said, the party needs to show its stability, and put forth its proposals, and that will all have to be done at the negotiating table.

Losing its head seat at that table is the Dutch Labor party. On Thursday, its leaders were trying to recover, after the party suffered its worst defeat since World War I. Party head Ad Melkert resigned, following what his predecessor, outgoing Prime Minister Wim Kok, called a thrashing at the polls.

"A cold wind is blowing through Europe," Mr. Melkert said after his party's defeat, a reference to the continent's recent shift to the right. What that will actually mean in the Netherlands, though, still is not known.

If the List Pim Fortuyn proves to be a viable coalition partner, it could end up in a staunchly right-wing government with the Christian Democrats and the right-wing liberals. High on the agenda of any coalition, though, will be many issues Pim Fortuyn himself put there: A crackdown on crime and immigration, and tackling welfare reform and public services. The big question now is what the party he created will look like, and whether it is here to stay.