Swing to right in Dutch election

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THE Dutch image of tolerance and opposition to extremist politics took a sharp knock yesterday when two extreme right parties made striking gains in elections for 622 local councils.

The Christian Democrat- Labour coalition government would lose its majority if the same voting patterns were repeated at the general election in May.

The results underscore the growth of pan-European right- wing extremism. Throughout the European Union voters are increasingly expressing their hostility towards immigrants and their fears of unemployment by voting for the far right.

The extent of support for the anti-immigrant Centrum Democraten (CD) and the Central Party (CP '86) took mainstream politicians by surprise. Between them the parties took 86 of the 10,914 council seats at stake, up from 15 in the last local elections in 1990.

'We are the party of the Dutch people. They (the other parties) can no longer ignore us,' said Hans Janmaat, CD leader and the party's sole parliamentary representative. 'By the next local elections (in 1998) we will have overtaken the Labour party.'

The government blamed the results on the recession and the misery caused by long-term unemployment. There was no disguising the alarm felt in government circles, with Wim Kok, the Finance Minister and Labour party leader, calling it a 'black day' for the country.

Translated into parliamentary terms, the results of the election would have led to Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers' Christian Democrats losing 15 seats and Labour 17. The two ultra-right parties would have gained four seats, up from one at present.

The extremists took more than 10 per cent of the vote in council elections in Rotterdam, Utrecht and The Hague, mirroring the recent success of the MSI party in Italy.

The swing was blamed on disillusioned Labour supporters and younger voters along with the growing number of people who have become hostile to the country's relaxed attitude towards foreigners. Immigrants from Turkey and the former colony of Surinam are widely blamed for a rise in drug-related violence.