POLITICIANS in the Netherlands are accustomed to coalition-building after elections that fail to give a single party an overall majority, but their skill will be tested to the utmost following Wednesday's general election. The Christian Democrats, the leading party in the pre-election coalition, held its position but its main partners failed to do so and parties previously on the fringes showed surprising strength. Even the new Party For Animals won two seats and will be represented in parliament for the first time. Those who have followed the politics of the Netherlands over the years still have difficulty in reconciling today's widely-held rigid attitudes to immigration and the country's Muslim community with the liberal position on almost any issue that prevailed not so many years ago. But the change has happened and showed clearly during this election when the far right-wing Party for Freedom won nine seats on a policy summed up by its leader as more decency in the country, more education and less Islam. Even the Christian Democrats were obliged to propose at the last moment in the campaign for the burqa and niqab to be banned in public places. The leader of the Christian Democrats, Jan Peter Balkenende, now has the task of finding other pieces of the Netherlands' political jigsaw that fit his party's policies. Despite the problems, he is confident of doing so: We go for gold, and we have got the gold he said as the results came in.
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