AMSTERDAM, Netherlands – Dutch elections will go ahead on May 15 as scheduled, despite the slaying of right-wing leader Pim Fortuyn, the government announced Tuesday.
"It would be sensible not to change the original date," Prime Minister Wim Kok said in a nationally televised address after talks with officials from all parties, including Fortuyn's.
The Dutch government had considered postponing the vote after Fortuyn, 54, was gunned down on Monday in Hilversum.
Kok did not say whether all parties favored holding the vote next week. "Of course we took into serious consideration what we heard from Pim Fortuyn's List [his party], but also the opinions of the other political parties," he said.
Fortuyn was shot and killed by a gunman in the parking lot of a radio station near Amsterdam after a campaign interview Monday, nine days before elections in which his upstart anti-immigration party was expected to win up to 28 of the 150 seats in the Dutch parliament.
Police arrested a 32-year-old white man, a Dutch citizen, but they did not release his name or a suspected motive and said he had refused to give a statement. They said he would be arraigned Wednesday in Amsterdam. Prosecutor Theo Hofstee said the suspect apparently acted alone.
"Pim loved democracy and elections. It's in the best interests of everyone that the election should be held," Pim Fortuyn's List party spokesman Mat Herben said.
Mourners in Fortuyn's hometown, Rotterdam, left flowers, candles and handwritten notes outside his home. The city hall stayed open through the night so people could write tributes in a public register.
Fortuyn was shot at least five times in the head, neck and chest outside the headquarters of the national broadcasting company in Hilversum, about 12 miles southeast of Amsterdam. The suspect was arrested minutes after the shooting was reported.
Police said a search of his home in Harderwijk, 30 miles east of Amsterdam, turned up literature on environmental issues, but they did not immediately draw a connection between the killing and environmental activism. Hoftsee said investigators also found ammunition that matched the caliber of the handgun used to kill Fortuyn.
His killing was the first assassination in modern Dutch history and sent shock waves through the Netherlands, where most political leaders go without bodyguards and many ride public transportation.
"These are things you thought were just not possible in the Netherlands. It's a low point for our democracy." said Ad Melkert, the ruling Labor Party's new leader and its candidate for prime minister.
"Respect for each other means you fight with words, not bullets," said Kok, the outgoing prime minister. "What has happened here is indescribable."
Kok appealed for calm after several hundred protesters, many of them Fortuyn supporters, clashed with riot police outside the historic parliament complex in the center of The Hague on Monday evening.
Protesters smashed shop windows and at least two cars were set on fire in a parking garage under government offices. Police dispersed crowds with water cannons and arrested 20 people.
Fortuyn's death brought campaigning to a halt. Opinion polls had predicted his party, created this year, would get more than one-sixth of the parliament seats, which could land it in the ruling coalition.
A former academic and columnist who was openly gay, Fortuyn stormed onto the political stage in March when his party won 35 percent of the vote in local elections in Rotterdam, the Netherlands' largest city and a port with a large immigrant population.
His success led other parties to pledge to re-examine the country's generous refugee policy. About one person in eight comes from a non-Dutch background, and nearly half of those come from Islamic countries.
Fortuyn dictated debate during the election campaign with verbal attacks on the growing Muslim population and strident criticism of the government. He called Islam a "backward" culture and said the Netherlands should reconsider its law guaranteeing freedom from discrimination.
His rise mirrored a right-wing resurgence in several European countries, highlighted by the surprise showing in France of anti-immigrant candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen in the first round of presidential elections. Le Pen was defeated in Sunday's runoff by incumbent Jacques Chirac.
Fortuyn had dissociated himself from Le Pen and other European extreme-right leaders, saying he did not advocate sending immigrants home but wanted to stem the influx. "Holland is full," he liked to say.
"Pim was not an extremist," said truck driver Leslie Gonggeyp, protesting outside parliament. "He wanted to do something for the working class to save us from taxes and do something for the normal people and not for the immigrants."
Fortuyn's platform seemed out of place in the Netherlands — the first country to legalize gay marriages, regulate prostitution, approve and control euthanasia and tolerate the over-the-counter sale of marijuana.
Though the Dutch are tolerant of such subcultures, Fortuyn's popularity exposed a deep vein of suspicion of immigrants, often blamed for a perceived rise in crime and drug abuse.
Far-right parties and mainstream politicians across Europe condemned the slaying. In Austria, home to the extreme-right Freedom Party, spokesman Karl Schweitzer said he was shaken.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair canceled a planned trip to the Netherlands. "No matter what feelings political figures arouse, the ballot box is the place to express them," Blair said.
In Brussels Tuesday, European Union Commission President Romano Prodi called the slaying an attack on "the spirit of Europe" and its democratic values.
EU Commissioner Frits Bolkestein, who is Dutch, called it "the worst thing that's happened to political life in the Netherlands since 1945" but said it should not delay the elections.
"We have struggled hard to establish the fundamental right for everyone to express his or her views and the right to stand for political office," he said. "We must not allow ourselves to be intimidated or prevented for exercising these rights."
Fortuyn had expressed fears for his safety after protesters threw two urine-laced cream pies in his face a few weeks ago. But in the radio interview minutes before his death, he was asked how long he expected to live and said, "I'm not going to die soon. I'm going to live to be 87."