Thu Jun 29th, 2006 at 03:14:52 PM EST
The word is out. The controversial solution Minister of Integration Rita Verdonk came up to plea herself free in her cock-up about Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s citizenship was unacceptable for D66, one of the three coalition parties which form the right-wing liberal government, led by Jan Peter Balkenende. After a day of increasing bluff poker, the two D66 ministers resigned and Balkenende decided he could not continue as head of a minority cabinet.
Balkenende II is over and out.
A better timeline is below the fold.
Man, where to start. The past 24 hours have been absolutely crazy in The Hague. In the end, it seems it was destiny that I began posting diaries on the developments surrounding Hirsi Ali, which were part of the devastating chain of events that led to the demise of Balkenende II. As reported before, it began when the Minister of Integration Rita Verdonk, already a controversial figure of the cabinet, questioned the citizenship of Hirsi Ali. A few days ago, the matter came to a disgraceful close, when it appeared that a statement by Hirsi Ali was fabricated by members of the cabinet, among others minister Verdonk, to save the minister’s own face, frontpaged here.
Femke Halsema, spokewoman of Groen Links (Green-Left) had by then requested an emergency parliamentary session, which started yesterday evening and would last until an insane 5:30 in the morning. I predicted that both VVD (the party of Verdonk) and CDA (their most faithful coalition party) would want to move on as quickly as possible – which turned out to be the case. However, it was crucial what position the third coalition party, D66, would take in the debate.
After opening statements and statements of both minister Verdonk and the prime minister Jan Peter Balkenende, the debate seemed to swerve into the terrain Sven knows best - micro analysis of irrelevant details. The turn of events of 15 and 16 May were rehashed, which led to a bizarre call for the presence of the minister of Finances, Zalm (VVD), at 01:00 in the night, to explain to the parliament in what function he was present during the meeting on 15 May with Minister Verdonk and the Chair of the Parliament.
At this point, more pressing issues had still not been discussed but parliament was fully aware that they still should, even while the night was slowly ticking away towards dawn. What role Verdonk had had in presenting Hirsi Ali a statement of contrition still needed to be discussed, as well as the juridical consequences of Verdonk’s decision to allow Hirsi Ali to retain her citizenship, whereas up to 70 equal cases of immigrants had been denied citizenship on same grounds.
Things first seemed to go well for Verdonk – she admitted she would do things differently next time regarding informing Parliament. She refused to admit any regret for failing to do her research in the first place, when this story broke. To Verdonk, re-checking quotes in a documentary and a snippet from an article out of the Guardian (read: let an employee google the internet) was thorough research which justified her earliest decision to question Hirsi Ali’s citizenship – which led to her immediate resignation. Surprisingly to me, no one cried foul, and things were heading for another botched effort to make Verdonk resign. By then it was around two o’clock in the night.
However, when discussing the questionable statement of Hirsi Ali, an unexpected slip of tongue by prime-minister Balkenende changed everything: he implied that Rita Verdonk's insistence to put together a statement of contrition was more than just a juridical procedure. Which meant what everyone had been suspecting all along: there was a deliberate political motive behind it. Namely: rescuing Verdonk’s position.
From there, the first crisis set in, but I gave up by then: it was three o’clock. Femke Halsema filed an official motion of disapproval, to demand the resignation of Verdonk. Not that that would immediately phase Verdonk – in the course of the past two years she already had had three, or four – I lost count – and survived them all.
But Balkenende's admission turned the tide within the D66, a party under continuous internal tension and whose members had repeatedly called for a tougher stance on Verdonk. This was the turning point: D66 rallied behind the motion. The motion of disapproval, however, did not gain the majority of votes – Verdonk being saved by parliament representatives of the LPF, the remnants of the Pim Fortuyn party, and the SGP, the ultra-Christian party.
But by rallying behind the motion of disapproval, D66 induced the next crisis, which was playing out in the course of this day (Thursday): a coalition crisis. Everyone took a few hours of rest, Balkenende held an impeccable speech before Dutch war veterans, and then went back into frantic collusion with members of the cabinet. Bluff poker had set in.
D66 declared that they no longer could accept Rita Verdonk as the minister of Integration in this cabinet. In turn, the resignation of Verdonk (or putting her at a different post, an option that briefly floated) was unacceptable for VVD and also the CDA.
Therefore, the cabinet seemed to head for three possible outcomes:
* Rita Verdonk would step down as a minister, and the coalition would sit it out until elections in May next year. Over the hours this became increasingly unlikely.
* If VVD would continue to stand behind their minister, the entire coalition would blow up
* D66 would step out of the coalition, and the rest of the Balkenende cabinet would continue as a minority cabinet
In the afternoon, a somewhat puzzling reaction was given by the prime-minister: the cabinet had decided unanimously that there would be no consequences to the motion of disapproval. This was surprising, as two D66 ministers are part of the cabinet – notably, minister Pechtold, who was voted party-leader this weekend. It should be noted that his largest competitor for party leadership, Lousewies van der Laan, was still leading the fight against Verdonk within parliament. Lots of double entendres here.
But this set the next move in motion. There was hardly any other way now than that D66 will withdrew support from the cabinet entirely – which is exactly what Van der Laan announced around six o’clock in the evening. Another frantic session amongst the ministers of the cabinet followed, but it spelled out the end: one hour later (I was having dinner) the resignation of the two D66 ministers was a fact, and Balkenede II had come to a close.
Tomorrow, the prime-minister will visit the Queen for his resignation, although there is a slight, slight chance CDA and VVD might want to pursue a minority cabinet after all. Personally, I don’t think that will happen – which only means there will be elections half a year earlier, I think in September or October.
Man, what a nice day. We need an epitaph for Balkenende II now. After all, he has never managed to sit out a full term as prime-minister. Didn’t JK Rowling say recently something that she may kill off Harry to prevent any unwanted sequels? Funny thing, that.