Sunday 27 November 2022

D66 founder Hans van Mierlo dies

Hans van Mierlo, the man seen as the founding father of the Liberal democratic party D66, has died at the age of 78.

When Hans van Mierlo (1931-2010) burst onto the Dutch political scene in 1966- striding purposefully, raincoat flapping – he was all politics was not: young and full of new ideas.
Van Mierlo meant to blow up the ‘fixed and unmoveable’ political conservatism of the time. With his Kennedy-style election campaign he certainly gave it a good shake.
The following year, his party gained seven seats and Democrats 66 had become a factor to be reckoned with although its main political point- a complete reform of the voting system- never materialised.
Always a thinker rather than a practical politician, van Mierlo’s two ministerial stints were unremarkable except when under his tenure as foreign minister Dutch UN troops stood by while thousands of Muslim men were taken away to be killed in Srebrenica.
That incident would haunt him for the rest of his days, he said.
In 1972, after a massive election defeat, van Mierlo had to step back as party leader and in 1977 he gave up active politics. His party’s support meanwhile had dwindled to almost nothing until in 1985 van Mierlo’s comeback as party leader was instrumental in reviving it.
His inspirational style – the man rather than the actual programme – led to 24 seats in the 1994 general elections. It was enough for a coalition which, for the first time since 1918, did not include any religious parties.
Van Mierlo left politics but remained deeply interested in the ever-varying fortunes of his party. He supported the candidacy of Alexander Pechtold as party leader.


Pechtold called van Mierlo ‘an inspiration’. ‘I came to him for advice on a weekly basis, even when he was in hospital’, Pechtold said. ‘His first words always were: how are we doing in the polls?’
Van Mierlo’s final years were marred by ill health. He had a liver transplant ten years ago, although as former D66 health minister Els Borst said, his vitality made him live much longer than the five years that are usually allotted to liver patients.
Hans van Mierlo was married to writer Connie Palmen and leaves three children from two previous marriages.
Archive footage of the launch of D66

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