During the Netherlands’ 2002 election campaign, the politician Pim Fortuyn and his party Lijst Pim Fortuyn broke records in Dutch political history and ensured it was one of the most dramatic, tragic and controversial elections of recent times.
During the national campaign, Fortuyn was doing so well that some polls predicted the LPF could become the largest party in parliament, giving him the chance to become prime minister.
However, nine days before the elections, Pim Fortuyn was assassinated by Volkert van der Graaf, an animal rights activist. Following his death, his success was clear when his party won 26 seats (17 per cent of the vote), achieving by far the most impressive result ever for a new party at national elections.
‘Professor Pim,’ as Fortuyn liked to be called, was a flamboyant character combining an extravagant lifestyle alongside being one of the first Dutch politicians to. He once famously said that the Netherlands, with a population of 16 million, had enough inhabitants, and the practice of allowing as many as 40,000 asylum-seekers into the country each year had to be stopped.
As such, Fortuyn was often labelled a far right populist by his opponents and the media but he rejected this description, distancing himself from other European far right politicians rising to prominence at that time – Jean Marie Le Pen in France and Jorg Haider in Austria.
Originally a supporter of communism, Fortuyn later joined the Labour Party before turning to the right-of-centre People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) in the early 1990s. Unable to conform to party lines, when he finally took to the political stage himself, it was as the leader of an emerging party called Leefbaar Nederland (Liveable Netherlands).
When he publicly announced that he considered Article 7 of the constitution, which asserts freedom of speech, of more importance than Article 1, which forbids discrimination on the basis of religion, life principles, political inclination, race, or sexual preference he rocked the Dutch establishment and was rejected by the Liveable Netherlands. As such he founded his own party LPF (Pim Fortuyn List) on 11 February 2002. Many Livable Netherlands supporters transferred their support to the new party.
Amongst his party’s election promises was:
- Tougher action against immigrants who did not assimilate into Dutch culture
- Stronger measures to fight crime
- Less bureaucracy in government
He had a particularly strong appeal amongst the young with nearly half of 18-30 year-olds polled before the election saying they wanted to see zero Muslim immigration, and that they would be voting for Fortuyn in May's ballots.
Many political commentators felt that the ‘Fortuynist Revolt’ (Cuperus 2003) during the 2002 elections was not surprising and had its roots in a swathe of supressed discontent amongst the population concerning the failure of multi-cultural policies.
Fortuyn was assassinated outside a radio studio in Hilversum and the parties immediately stopped campaigning. The government decided not to postpone the elections in order not to disrupt the democratic process because of a violent act (Pennings and Keman 2003).
Although the other members of LPF were rather unknown to the general public, the two polls held after the death of Fortuyn indicated that the LPF had become more attractive to voters. The LPF became the country's second largest party in May, shaking the Dutch political landscape to the core. Some 1.6 million people voted for his political heirs handing them a pivotal place in a three-party coalition, four cabinet ministers, 26 MPs (including the ministers) and the thing they craved the most - control over the country's immigration policy.
It soon became clear that the party was not viable without its original leader, and it went into decline until it was finally dissolved in 2008.