Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte narrowly survived a vote of no confidence on Friday (April 2), after his conduct during coalition talks was brought into question.
Despite keeping his position, Mr Rutte still faces a parliamentary motion of disapproval, having been accused of lying over his treatment of MP Pieter Omtzigt.
Known as ‘Teflon Mark’ for his ability to survive scandals, Mr Rutte has been in office for over a decade, with his liberal-conservative People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) winning the most seats in this March’s general election. With only 34 of the 76 seats needed for a majority, the VVD turned to parties such as Democrats 66 (D66) and Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) for support.
MP Pieter Omtzigt, member of the centre-right Christian Democratic Appeal, has been a vocal critic of Mr Rutte, helping to expose the child welfare fraud scandal that led Rutte and his cabinet to resign this January. The scandal had left some parents facing demands to pay thousands of euros to tax authorities due to small errors such as missing signatures on paperwork. Despite the scandal, the VVD went on to gain a seat in the March election.
Coalition talks were suspended last Thursday when Kajsa Ollongren of D66 tested positive for Covid-19. While rushing to quarantine, Ollongren was photographed carrying documents including Omtzigt’s name alongside “position elsewhere”. This raised suspicions that there were plans to move Omtzigt to a post outside of parliament, or otherwise out of the way. Prime Minister Rutte initially denied discussing any such plans. However, when civil servants’ notes were published prior to Thursday’s debate, Rutte was forced to admit he had misremembered, but that “I did not lie”.
Following questioning that lasted overnight to Friday morning, the Prime Minister said “Parliament has given me a serious message and I will try my very best to win back confidence”. MPs remain unconvinced, with Democrats 66 leader Sigrid Kaag stating that it should “not be taken as read” that Rutte would lead the formation of a new coalition. “If I were him,” she argued “I would not continue”.
Far-right Party for Freedom leader Geert Wilders, who originally proposed the no-confidence motion, said “The Prime Minister shamelessly lied to the Netherlands for a week, but after 10 years of government, the truth has caught up with him”.
Wopke Hoekstra, leader of CDA, and D66’s Sigrid Kaag both supported Rutte in the confidence vote, but proposed the motion of disapproval. Kaag stated “My confidence in him has been severely damaged. I blame him for that”.
Philip English, is a member of the YCL’s Manchester Branch