Dutch Minister Loses Party Leadership Vote

By TOBY STERLING AMSTERDAM, Netherlands — The Dutch immigration minister who set off a political firestorm by threatening to revoke the citizenship of a Somali-born lawmaker lost a party leadership contest Wednesday seen as a referendum on the country’s tough immigration policies. The hardline minister Rita Verdonk caused the political downfall of lawmaker Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the country’s most outspoken critic of fundamentalist Islam. Hirsi Ali became internationally known when Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh was murdered in November 2004 by a Muslim radical incensed by the short film “Submission,” a critique of the treatment of women under Islam which she wrote the script for. Verdonk was the front-runner in the contest to lead the free-market VVD party into elections next year until she threatened earlier this month to revoke Hirsi Ali’s passport. Hirsi Ali — also a member of the VVD — quit after Verdonk said her naturalization was invalid because she gave a false name when she moved to the Netherlands in 1992. Hirsi Ali, 36, has acknowledged her real name was Ayaan Hirsi Magan, and said she fabricated her name because she feared reprisals from her family after fleeing an arranged marriage. Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende conceded Wednesday that her resignation had damaged the Netherlands’ reputation as a haven of tolerance. “Everything that’s happened has brought negative publicity,” Balkenende said at a lunch with the Dutch foreign press association. “I read the international papers too, but the question is, will it have a lasting effect? I believe not.” Verdonk was defeated by the more moderate Mark Rutte in the party primary. She retains her cabinet post. Rutte won 51 percent of votes, while Verdonk got 46 percent, the party said. Many prominent members of the VVD, including EU Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes, shifted their support from Verdonk to Rutte after the Hirsi Ali affair. A former deputy prison warden, Verdonk built her reputation as a strict enforcer of the country’s immigration policies, among the toughest in Europe. Since taking office in 2003, Verdonk has ordered citizenship classes and tests for immigrants, raised visa fees by hundreds of dollars and began imprisoning rejected asylum-seekers before deporting them. As a result, immigration is half what it was in 2000. Verdonk, 50, had in the past benefited in the polls from decisions similar to the one on Hirsi Ali. She denied citizenship to an Ivory Coast-born soccer player Salomon Kalou, and deporting a young refugee from Kosovo just a month before she was due to graduate from Dutch high school. But after Hirsi Ali’s resignation, Verdonk was skewered in a 10-hour emergency debate in parliament, in which she was criticized by all sides for acting too hastily. Verdonk was forced to review Hirsi Ali’s case, and agree to reprocess her naturalization under her true name if necessary. Hirsi Ali continues to live in her apartment in The Hague under police protection because of threats to her life from radicals. She is unable to speak in public while her immigration case is under review and plans to move to the United States to join The American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. Rutte, 39, will now stand in national elections next May, with an outside chance of becoming prime minister as leader of the country’s third-largest party.