Dutch Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers scored a personal triumph in national elections Wednesday, overcoming strong criticism of his budget-cutting austerity program and a last-minute ``Chernobyl factor.'' He led his center-right coalition government to a surprise landslide victory. ``The people have decided [that the austerity program has] been tough,'' the Christian Democrat prime minister said, ``but that it's been worth it.''
Opposition Labor Party officials, however, insisted that the election generally revealed a leftward shift in voter sentiment. They note the Labor Party recorded a gain of five seats in the 150-seat parliament over the last elections four years ago. But even with the increase to 52 seats, the Labor Party lost its status as the country's strongest single party in parliament.
Prime Minister Lubbers's centrist Christian Democratic Appeal, which won nine more seats than in 1982, overtook Labor with 54 seats. The Christian Democrats' right-wing coalition partner, the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (the liberals), lost nine seats.
Together, the two parties will retain their clear majority of 81 seats in parliament. This will enable them to re-form a government without the Labor Party within the next few weeks.
But some analysts say that the strong Labor showing will force the new government to take account of leftist ideas to a greater extent than did the outgoing government.
Opinion polls taken in the Netherlands in recent weeks had suggested that Prime Minister Lubbers's government would lose its majority in the elections, primarily because of its support for the stationing of United States nuclear missiles on Dutch territory -- due to take place in 1988 -- and for the expanded use of nuclear power.
The political fallout from the Chernobyl nuclear-plant disaster in the Soviet Union late last month was said to have benefitted the Labor Party. Labor campaigned on a platform of scrapping the country's nuclear-energy program and barring missile deployment.
In the end, however, those issues took a back seat in voters' minds to the parties' positions on economic recovery and on how to revise the nation's cradle-to-grave welfare system.
That trend was clearly evident in a televised debate Tuesday night between Mr. Lubbers and Labor Party leader Johannes den Uyl. A viewer poll showed that the Labor Party chief had failed to capitalize on the nuclear issues, and that Lubbers, who focused attention on economic policy, had won the debate hands down (50 percent for Lubbers, 20 percent for den Uyl).