Christian Democrat says Balkenende must go
While Christian Democrats argue over the position of party leader Jan Peter Balkenende, more politicians are set to stand down at the next election.
Current prime minister Jan Peter Balkenende should make way for a new leader
of the Christian Democrat (CDA) party. If he doesn't, the CDA risks becoming
the Netherlands' third or fourth biggest party, according to CDA member of
parliament Annie Schreijer-Pierik.
Schreijer-Pierik thinks party officials were too quick to endorse Balkenende as leader again, only a few hours after the fall of the government in February. "The party leadership decided immediately. It appears they are dividing up the jobs amongst themselves." Schreijer-Pierik is an influential CDA politician because of the support she enjoys among farmers, a traditional part of the CDA base. In 2006, she garnered almost 32,000 personal votes. (Under Dutch election law, citizens can cast their vote for any specific candidate of their party of choice.) She is leaving after the election.
She is the first CDA member of parliament to speak out against Balkenende, who has been put forward by party officials as candidate leader. On the Saturday following the fall of the government Schreijer-Pierik spoke to Balkenende, she said. "I asked him if it's a good idea and if he's discussed it with his wife, Bianca."
She thinks that until the CDA party conference in April there should be open discussions about a successor, but this is not happening enough. "Party officials have had their say. Surely the members should now have their say. This isn't Russia," Schreijer-Pierik said.
The conference is expected to endorse Balkenende as party leader. Schreijer-Pierik thinks that's a bad idea. "We need new people," she said. She prefers the suggestion made on Monday by provincial council member Theo Rietkerk, who proposed caretaker finance minister Jan Kees de Jager as leader and former agriculture minister Cees Veerman as candidate for prime minister.
"My greatest fear is that we will no longer be the biggest party. That would be terrible, particularly for agriculture, “said Schreijer-Pierik, who hails from Twente, an agricultural area in the east of the Netherlands. If the conference endorses Balkenende as leader, she would "fully" back the move, she said. "But now is the time for discussion."
For now she remains the only member of parliament to say Balkenende should go. Her colleague Jan Schinkelshoek thinks the current prime minister is the right man to lead the party. "I have no doubts. Balkenende has won three elections. He can position himself well between Job Cohen, the expected new leader of Labour (PvdA), and Geert Wilders, leader of the populist PVV." CDA member of parliament Sybrand van Haersma Buma said: "We must reform the economy to take our country into the future. Balkenende is the best man for this job. He proved this before 2006."
There has been criticism of Balkenende over the past few days from grassroots supporters. Two party members wrote in the national newspaper De Volkskrant that "Balkenende is past his sell-by date".
In the meantime, more politicians have said they are standing down at the June election, following the resignations of Labour leader Wouter Bos, Socialist party leader Agnes Kant and CDA transport minister Camiel Eurlings . On Tuesday, Pieter van Geel, who leads the CDA in parliament, and former home affairs minister minister Johan Remkes and member of parliament Laetitia Griffith, both of the right-wing liberal party (VVD), joined the exodus.