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Fortuyn's heirs eclipsed as big parties move right

There are no television cameras at Overschie market in Rotterdam and just one local newspaper journalist has turned up for the arrival of the leader of the party made famous by the murdered anti-immigration campaigner Pim Fortuyn.

In 2002, Olaf Stuger made his mark by flying overnight in a freight plane from his holiday in Lanzarote to get a chance to meet Mr Fortuyn, and now heads the party which bares the name of the assassinated leader.

But, though the Fortuyn party won 26 parliamentary seats four years ago, Mr Stuger's ambition is to win just two seats in today's Dutch elections. Ignored by the Dutch media and sidelined in the national debate, many believe Mr Stuger's target is over-optimistic.

Four years after the demise of Mr Fortuyn, who was murdered by an animal rights activist, no fewer than four fringe parties are battling for the votes of his supporters. They have to compete with mainstream politicians like Rita Verdonk, the outgoing immigration minister from the VVD Liberals, who has announced plans to ban the burqa.

Ms Verdonk's party is struggling to maintain its place in a ruling coalition but the prime minister and Christian Democrat leader Jan Peter Balkenende is likely to return to power, possibly in a broad coalition with the socialist opposition.

Mr Stuger is sitting in a school bus which serves as a mobile campaign headquarters as he declares: "The mainstream parties have taken some of our issues, like immigration, but not the issue of integration."

In a restaurant a few miles away, the man many believe to be the real heir to Mr Fortuyn is Marco Pastors, leader of the Een NL (One Netherlands) party, who argues that radical Islam is being appeased in the same way as Nazism was in 1930s Germany. "There are big similarities," he says. "There were indications that developments in Germany were going the wrong way; that Germany was preparing for war; that Germany was making the Jews the scapegoat."

Mr Pastors criticises customs such as arranged marriages, lack of tolerance of homosexuality and lack of freedom to renounce the Islamic faith. He adds: "No one took measures against what Germany was doing. What we are doing is not taking actions against Muslims in quarters where they are living."

At one point Mr Pastors thought he could win dozens of seats, but now he is aiming for about 10. He considers his main rival to be Geert Wilders, a former member of the VVD Liberals who now leads the Party of Freedom. Outspoken in his criticism of Islam, Mr Wilders is under 24-hour police protection.

Another populist politician, Hilbrand Nawijn, can also reasonably lay claim to the mantle of Mr Fortuyn. A former member of Mr Fortuyn's group, Mr Nawijn heads a new Party for the Netherlands. Mr Pastors admits that the Fortuyn "heritage is scattered" and that his failure to unite with kindred spirits "could be one of the things I regret".

Populist right-wingers have suffered from the disastrous, fractious, role the Fortuyn party played in a short-lived government in 2002. But most of all they have been squeezed by mainstream politicians such as Ms Verdonk whose tough line against immigrants has been a prominent feature of the government.

Marc Peeperkorn, political correspondent of the Volkskrant newspaper, argues: "What we are seeing in the election is the end of the Fortuyn story. Mainstream parties have taken his policies on board".

At the bus stop in Overschie, Yvonne Measter, an audio engineer and former Fortuyn supporter who plans to vote socialist, agrees. "I voted for him once but not now," she says. "He has charisma and stood up for things. But Pim is not there any more."