VVD in crisis after dismissing Verdonk
14 September 2007
AMSTERDAM (dpa) – The board of the liberal VVD party said on Friday it would not resign following the decision by party leader Mark Rutte on Thursday to dismiss high profile member Rita Verdonk from the parliamentary faction.
Verdonk has until Friday afternoon to announce to the party whether she would leave the faction herself or wait until she was officially being dismissed.
Insiders however expect Verdonk to wait until after Saturday's party congress to announce whether or not she will now establish her own party, join another party or leave politics altogether.
Depending on her decision, several other high-ranking Liberals may also reconsider their own party membership to join forces with Verdonk.
Fred Teeven and Charlie Aptroot are among those widely thought to be reconsidering their membership.
The current crisis comes after almost a year of personal competition over the party leadership between former Justice Minister Verdonk, 51, and Mark Rutte, 40, who presides over the Liberal's parliamentary faction.
Rutte is known to be more leftist than Verdonk, who became known as “Iron Rita” during her term as minister for immigration and integration affairs.
Verdonk's radically stricter immigration laws reduced the number of asylum seekers from 80,000 per year to less than 10,000 per year.
Under her responsibility, the asylum seeker procedure was drastically shortened from an average of five years to about one year.
Her public image as being strict, consistent and tough on immigration garnered both wide support as well as criticism from the Dutch public.
Last summer Rutte narrowly beat Verdonk during the party's first public elections for the Liberals' leadership.
However, in the ensuing parliamentary elections of November 2006, the Dutch Liberal electorate overwhelmingly expressed their preference for Verdonk. They gave her 620,555 personal votes, while only 553,200 people voted for Rutte, the officially elected party leader.
As the party had not foreseen this scenario, no party policy had been defined to deal with such a stalemate. Verdonk stepped into that vacuum, demanding the right to lead the Liberal party after the Dutch Liberal electorate had chosen her over Rutte.
Greeted enthusiastically by female party members, Verdonk was ultimately forced to back down when the core of high-ranking party members – mostly male politicians – refused to back her.
She returned to parliament as a legislator, as part of Rutte's faction, working in the committees of Family, Justice, Education, and Social Affairs.
In several interviews that appeared in Dutch media in the past months, Verdonk continued to voice her personal opinion on political matters, even if it deviated from the official party line as determined by her competitor Rutte.
Thursday Dutch daily newspapers AD and Telegraaf published remarks Verdonk presumably made at a dinner party where several Liberals were present.
She was quoted as saying Mark Rutte did not take enough of a stand in the immigration and integration debate in the Netherlands, resulting in more public support for the liberal rightist Freedom party PVV, headed by Geert Wilders.
In a personal conversation with Rutte on Thursday, Verdonk insisted her comments were pulled out of context.
“Her answer was not satisfactory,” Rutte later said, explaining his decision to dismiss her.
Meanwhile Geert Wilders, leader of the Freedom party, told reporters he would be prepared to sit down with Verdonk and discuss the possibility of her joining his party.
Referring to September 2004, when Wilders himself was thrown out of the Liberal party, also for rightist opinions that diverged from the official party line, Wilders said he “empathised” with Verdonk. He added he could imagine how she must have felt after her dismissal.
Verdonk herself excluded the option of merging with Wilders' Freedom party Thursday evening.
[Copyright dpa 2007]
Subject: Dutch news