A majority of the political parties in parliament backed two motions on the issue. One calls on Verdonk to reconsider within six weeks whether Hirsi Ali is a Dutch citizen. The second instructs the Minister to grant Hirsi Ali accelerated naturalisation if she finds she is not a citizen of the Netherlands.
During eleven hours of debate on Tuesday, Verdonk parried criticism from parties on both the left and right of the political spectrum about her treatment of former Liberal MP Hirsi Ali.
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Verdonk, also a member of the Liberal Party (VVD), continually exasperated MPs as she defended her decision to send Hirsi Ali a letter on Monday to say her naturalisation in 1997 was invalid. This flows from the use of a false name and date of birth by Somali-born Hirsi Ali to get asylum five years earlier.
The letter was the last straw that led Hirsi Ali to resign with immediate effect from parliament on Tuesday and formally announce she is moving to Washington to work for a neo-conservative think tank.
She had intended to resign next September. Recently a court ruled she has to leave her rented home in The Hague. Neighbours took the case because of safety fears arising from the fact Hirsi Ali’s life has repeatedly been threatened.
To the incredulity of much of the Second Chamber, Verdonk repeated several times she had not determined, but rather ‘observed’, Hirsi Ali’s naturalisation was invalid. Hirsi Ali was given six weeks to respond with arguments to convince the Minister otherwise. If she fails to do so, she will lose her Dutch passport.
Verdonk told parliament she had based this ‘observation’ on a ruling in the Dutch Supreme Court which left her with no option.
This standpoint was repeated challenged as MPs accused the Minister of wrongly interpreting the judgement and unnecessarily rushing to send the letter.
Verdonk almost floored her critics with shock when she suggested in the final hours of the debate that despite the invalid naturalisation, Hirsi Ali remains a Dutch citizen until the six-week appeal period expires.
The Minister explained the apparent contradiction of a person retaining a status she was allegedly never granted by referring back to her earlier assertion that her letter referred to a ‘observation’ rather than a decision on Hirsi Ali’s naturalisation.
Hirsi Ali has long admitted she used a false name and birth date to get asylum. She told the VVD leadership this in 2002 and subsequently said the same on television and in print.
The crisis began on Thursday when television programme ‘Zembla’ cast doubt on aspects of Hirsi Ali’s story. Verdonk said at the time that Hirsi Ali did not have to fear any consequences. A day later Verdonk ordered an investigation after MP Hilbrand Nawijn tabled questions and she sent the letter to Hirsi Ali on Monday.
She stunned MPs on Thursday night by claiming that she had not known about Hirsi Ali’s lies until she saw Zembla.
Verdonk is in the running to become the political leader of the VVD for the 2007 general election. The suspicion is she rushed out a decision on Hirsi Ali to show her even-handedness.
But it has done her more harm than good. Opinion polls conducted among VVD members shows support for former front-runner Verdonk has nosedived. And VVD MPs have made it clear they no longer see Verdonk as their future leader.