Mark Rutte and his liberal People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) are on track to achieve a comfortable victory in the national elections in the Netherlands, almost certainly securing the outgoing prime minister a fourth consecutive term.
After a boring campaign during the pandemic and seen as a referendum on government performance during the crisis, early exit polls suggested that the VVD had won 36 of 150 seats in the Dutch parliament, two more than in previous elections.
“The Netherlands has expressed its confidence in the VVD, in Mark Rutte, in this unprecedented crisis,” said Sophie Hermans, vice president of the party’s parliamentary group. “We did it, for the fourth time in a row. I am very proud.”
The poll, conducted by Ipsos for the Dutch public broadcaster NOS, predicted that the progressive, pro-European party D66, a member of Rutte’s outgoing coalition led by Foreign Minister Sigrid Kaag, finished second with 27 seats, eight more and the best result of the match.
Meanwhile, Geert Wilders’ far-right anti-Islam Freedom (PVV) party lost three seats compared to the 2017 election, finishing third as did another of Rutte’s coalition partners, the Christian Democrats (CDA), in 14 seats.
In a disappointing night for the left, the Dutch Labor Party (PvdA) ended five seats unchanged, while two other left-wing parties, GreenLeft and the Socialist Party, lost nearly half of their seats to eight each.
The far-right Forum for Democracy (FvD) won eight seats, the Animals Party six, one more than last time, and a newcomer, the pro-pan-European Volt party, secured its first parliamentary seats with four. The turnout was 81%.
The first results and, in particular, the strong performance of D66 suggested that Rutte, who has led three coalition governments of different shades since 2010, would need at least two other parties to form a coalition with a majority of 76 deputies.
With almost a record 37 parties participating in the elections and, according to the exit poll, 16 in parliament, the shape of any future government is still up in the air. Coalitions can take months, and negotiations in 2017 lasted a record 208 days.
Rutte has ruled out a coalition with Wilders and the far-right leader of the Covid Forum for Democracy, Thierry Baudet, but said that Finance Minister Wopke Hoekstra’s CDA would once again be a “natural partner.”
“The next obvious Dutch coalition based on this result would be the center-right VVD-D66-CDA, basically a continuation of the current government,” said Pepijn Bergsen, a Chatham House researcher and specialist on the Netherlands.
However, Rutte may decide to explore alternative permutations or consider adding a fourth party, Bergsen suggested, because such a combination “would have only a minimal majority and would be a far cry from the majority in the upper house.”
With a nighttime curfew due to continued high infection rates and a ban on public gatherings during the day, the election campaign was silenced and carried out mainly through television debates.
To limit the risks of a pandemic, elderly and at-risk voters cast their votes on Monday and Tuesday before the polls opened for everyone else on Wednesday. Rutte said he was “cautiously” optimistic when he cycled to cast his vote at a school in The Hague.
“I am proud of what we have achieved in the last 10 years in the Netherlands,” Rutte said, adding that the country had “the best performing economy in Europe.” The main question was “who can best guide this country through the crown crisis and then start over,” he said.
The Netherlands has recorded more than 1.1 million infections and 16,000 deaths, and much of it remains under its tightest lockdown yet. Anti-lockdown discontent continues to simmer, with protests against Rutte in The Hague on Sunday.
But the popular prime minister, known as the “Teflon Mark,” has emerged unscathed from violent anti-blockade riots and the fact that his cabinet was forced to resign in January over a scandal in which thousands of parents were indicted. Falsely claiming fraudulently child care benefits.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism