Hirsi Ali’s shadow brings down Dutch cabinet

The Dutch government has handed in its resignation after coalition partner D66 withdrew its support. Lousewies van der Laan, chairwoman of D66, had asked for the resignation of VVD minister Rita Verdonk because of her handling of the Hirsi Ali naturalisation case. The initial vote of censure* by Femke Halsema (GroenLinks-GreenLeft) that inspired Van der Laan’s resignation plea received no majority in the Dutch Lower Chamber and Rita Verdonk refused to quit on her own. D66 cabinet members Laurens Jan Brinkhorst, Alexander Pechtold and Medy van der Laan consequently resigned and, by doing so, pulled the plug on the whole cabinet.

Rewind a moment to May 16th of this year when I wrote a small post here on A Few Euros More about the so-called discovery of Hirsi Ali’s lies about her true surname Magan and the position of Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk at that time:

Yesterday evening, Monday 15th, Verdonk is reported to have made a phone call to Hirsi Ali, her colleague in the VVD party, saying that Hirsi may very well not be Dutch after all because, in 1997, she lied about her application for Dutch citizenship. (…) Saturday May 20th: Verdonk stated that Hirsi will get her Dutch passport back. (…) Apparently they want to keep the VVD from splitting into two camps because of this affair. Huge pressure was piled on VVD member Verdonk to compromise and retract her earlier decision to strip Hirsi of her Dutch citizenship.

Back to the future. On Tuesday June 27th Rita Verdonk had found a legal loophole and announced that Hirsi Ali/Magan was and will remain Dutch after all. According to Somali law, if I remember correctly, Hirsi had been entitled to use her grandfather’s name Ali when she received Dutch citizenship back in 1997. So, technically, Hirsi had never lied about her “real” name even when she admitted several times in the past that she HAD lied. In a way she lied about having lied. She had even signed an admission of guilt which, according to Prime Minister Balkenende, had been necessary to “keep at a minimum Minister Verdonk’s loss of face”. That admission by Balkenende seems to have caused things to escalate out of control. Are you still following this? If not, CNN has a decent overview even when I have some doubts about their statement that it was “an international” outcry that forced Rita Verdonk to reconsider her earlier decision to strip Hirsi of her Dutch citizenship:

In May, Verdonk threatened to strip Hirsi Ali of her citizenship for applying under a false name when she first arrived in the country in 1992. Hirsi Ali resigned, but after an international outcry, parliament ordered Verdonk to reconsider her decision.
This week, she said that Hirsi Ali could retain her citizenship after all, prompting a debate that carried on until 5:30 a.m. Thursday. Verdonk survived a no-confidence vote, but the parliamentary faction of the smallest member of Balkenende’s conservative coalition, the centrist D-66 party, said the minister had lost all credibility and it would not support any cabinet that included her. The party’s three ministers resigned, and Balkenende said that meant the rest had to follow.

Between June 28th and June 29th an emergency debate was held in Dutch Parliament on the matter of former VVD MP Hirsi Ali/Magan’s nationality, with the consequences mentioned at the beginning of this post. The Dutch will now either hold new elections or continue with a rump cabinet.

My head is still spinning from all these political games and I hope some Dutch readers, or others who had the courage to follow this charade, will chime in with more clarifications, and possibly corrections, in the comments section.

*Update: I corrected a factual error. The vote of censure was served by Femke Halsema. Also, it appears that Verdonk herself had forced the admission of guilt on Hirsi Ali, who was put under pressure to sign it. The admission of guilt says that Hirsi had “wrong-footed” Verdonk. Hirsi is said to have signed the admission of guilt in order to be able to get on with her life. J.P. Balkenende shot his own cabinet in the foot during the emergency debate by inadvertently mentioning this political compromise. Lousewies van der Laan then geared up her torpedo boat to ramming speed.

6 thoughts on “Hirsi Ali’s shadow brings down Dutch cabinet

  1. Guy La Roche gives an honnest description of the events of a strange political night.
    The events themself do not explain the outcome. The unshakable views of Verdonk gave her the airs of an ‘Pim Fortuijn’. That has evoked a lot of admiration with many. But she has the same tendency (as Fortuijn) to feel belittled. That made her very unyielding and uncompromising. And that gave cause for a lot of irritation.
    One slip of the tongue from the Prime Minister Balkenende (defending Verdonk) and the sequence of events unrolled.
    But at the same time it means a demasque of (Dutch) politics that sentiments have the overtone, and not content.

  2. Guy’s description of the events is fair and balanced. However, I am not sure I agree with the last commenter that emotions predominated in the events. Perhaps they did for the minister in question, as she seems the kind of person that is totally unable to deal with criticism or to admit she made a mistake even in the face of the most blatant evidence. Worse even than that, from a moral viewpoint, is the abuse of power shown by her demand that Ms Hirsi Ali took all the blame and even apologised before she was given her passport back. Well, that, and the blatant disrespect she showed for Parliament throughout the debates (re her unwillingness to answer questions, her lies and distortions of the truth). On the other hand, the “this lady is not for turning” image is very much her trademark so she almost had to act as she did.

    All the other actors, especially her own VVD party and the liberal D66, also behaved rationally and in their own interest. VVD had to back Verdonk as they can not afford to lose her voters. And D66 had no choice to drop Verdonk, as that is clearly a strong wish of their own voters.

    You could argue though, that the whole debate in Parliament should have been about the Dutch immigration laws as such and its immoral results, instead of this particular case. I think it should have. Then again, I’m afraid the majority in parliament (including the social-democrats) is happy with (most of) the laws as they are.

  3. Warning: tinfoil hat alert.

    The timing of the affair is not inconvenient for the CDA and VVD.

    By forming Balkenende III and holding elections in November (instead of becoming demissionair and having elections within 3 months, or finishing the full term and having elections in May 2007) the CDA and VVD can present a sugar-coated budget in September, get free media-attention because of it and have elections immediately afterwards.

    CDA and VVD may even prefer this to the original scenario (present a sugar-coated budget, share the limelight with D66, only get elections 7 months afterwards).

    “Standing by” Rita Verdonk is pretty easy this way. I think the LPF has already been invited to join Balkenende IV.

  4. Jasper travels where I would have liked to travel but did not because of lack of time…

    I also thank the other commenters for their input. Many pairs of eyes can see more than one and can complement an incomplete picture. Cool.