Afghanistan war brings down Dutch government

This is a video of Afghan refugees demonstrating in The Hague, the Netherlands, against the Dutch government’s anti-Afghan refugee and pro-war policies.

From Associated Press:

Dutch govt collapses over Afghan mission


February 20, 2010 – 5:19PM

The Dutch coalition government collapsed on Saturday over irreconcilable differences on whether to extend the Netherlands’ military mission in Afghanistan.

Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende announced that the second largest party in his three-party alliance is quitting, in a breakdown of trust in what had always been an uneasy partnership.

Balkenende made no mention of elections as he spoke to reporters after a 16-hour Cabinet meeting in The Hague that ended close to dawn.

However, the resignation of the Labour Party would leave his government with an unworkable majority, and political analysts said early elections appeared inevitable.

Balkenende said his Christian Democratic Alliance would continue in office together with the small Christian Union, and would “make available” Labour’s cabinet seats. But he did not spell out his intentions.

The coalition, elected to a four-year term, marks its third year in office on Monday.

“Where there is no trust, it is difficult to work together. There is no road along which this cabinet to go further,” Balkenende said.

The political outcome also left uncertainty over the fate of the 1600 Dutch soldiers in the southern Afghan province of Oruzgan, where they were deployed in 2006 for a two-year stint that was extended until next August.

Labour demanded that Dutch troops leave Oruzgan as scheduled. Balkenende’s Christian Democratic Alliance wanted to keep a trimmed down military presence in the restive province, where 21 soldiers have been killed.

“A plan was agreed to when our soldiers went to Afghanistan,” said Labour Party leader Wouter Bos. “Our partners in the government didn’t want to stick to that plan, and on the basis of their refusal we have decided to resign from this government.”

NATO recently sent a letter to the government asking if it would consider staying longer at “Kamp Holland”, where many Australians troops were also stationed – a move that the Western alliance normally would do only if it had a clear signal of agreement.

“The future of the mission of our soldiers in Afghanistan will now be in the hands of the new Cabinet,” said Deputy Defence Minister Jack de Vries.

The split came after a buildup of tension over several weeks between Balkenende and Bos, the finance minister, mainly over Afghanistan and the government’s earlier political support for the war in Iraq.

“This is the end of this cabinet,” said Andre Rouvoet, leader of the third coalition party. He said Queen Beatrix, Holland’s ceremonial head of state who will formally accept the resignations of the Labour ministers on Saturday, “will ask the remaining ministers to prepare for elections.”

It was an uncomfortable alliance of convenience from the start, with … Balkenende and Bos exchanging unusually sharp barbs during the 2006 election campaign.

The acrimony surfaced again during a parliamentary debate on Thursday over Afghanistan, with the two government leaders in open discord in the face of concerted attacks by the opposition parties.

Opinion polls suggest the Afghan war is deeply unpopular. Labour, which has been dropping in the polls, appeared determined to take a stand with next month’s scheduled local elections in mind.

Bert Koenders, the Labour minister for overseas development aid, said his party was abiding by the government’s promise when it prolonged the Afghanistan mission last time – that it would be the last extension.

“We are sticking the Cabinet decision of two years ago,” he said.

An election within the next few months could see a further rise in power of the extreme anti-immigrant populist Geert Wilders, whose ranking in the polls rivals Balkenende’s.

Balkenende has been prime minister since 2002, but he resigned twice before because of the country’s fractious political alignments.

See also here.

The Netherlands is to hold a general election on 9 June, following the government’s collapse at the weekend in a row over Afghanistan: here.

13 thoughts on “Afghanistan war brings down Dutch government

  1. After Søren Gade, what now?

    Monday, 01 March 2010 14:15 JH News

    The departure of Søren Gade could exacerbate resentment of troop deployments

    This week’s cabinet reshuffle saw the country’s defence minister bid an emotional farewell to his post and politics in general. Søren Gade has been a stalwart of the Defence Ministry for the past six years, and is more or less single-handedly credited with keeping public opinion on side in Denmark’s efforts in Afghanistan.

    A former army officer himself, Gade was always at ease talking to the troops and took every opportunity to roll up his sleeves and head out to the warzone. On one occasion, while conducting an interview at a frontline location in Afghanistan, the base came under enemy shelling. Gade, with characteristic composure, continued the interview as they huddled under a table.
    The point he repeatedly tried to make about Afghanistan was that the battle was a moral and ethical one, as much as it was a military assault on the Taliban. While public opinion in other coalition countries has shifted against troop deployment, the Danish public has remained resolute in its support – in no small part due to Gade’s framing of the conflict as a humanitarian effort.

    But the story of Gade’s departure is not the usual case of a burned-out politician wanting to ‘spend more time with his family’. The 47-year-old has been dragged down by scandals which, although he solidly took responsibility for, were in no way his own fault. And tragedy has played a part in his downfall too: Gade lost his wife to cancer during his ministerial posting, and his father died shortly afterwards. A recent documentary about Gade depicted a man struggling to raise his two teenage daughters against a backdrop of grief and political turmoil. Aside from his own family funerals, he attended those of soldiers killed in action, often having to placate and console grieving parents.

    So it’s no surprise that the man eventually buckled under the pressure. His successor in the post, Gitte Lillelund Bech, will have her work cut out in shoring up support for continuing operations. It’s worth remembering that military action is still a relative novelty here; before Kosovo, Danish troops hadn’t been deployed overseas in any numbers since their 1864 defeat to Prussia. The uncomfortable fact may emerge that, with the exception of the Canadians, Danish soldiers are more likely to die in Afghanistan than any other coalition force (1 in 25 Danish soldiers come back dead, as opposed to about 1 in 80 US troops, or 1 in 40 British).

    The Netherlands government collapsed last week over the Afghanistan issue. Canada is pulling out its troops. In the UK the debate is becoming increasingly urgent as more troops come home in boxes. It could only be a matter of time before the Danish public starts demanding an answer to the question: what are we doing in Afghanistan?–denmark-out-of-afghanistan.html


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