Updated: Mar 12, 2021
Need to Knows:
Rutte will likely win another term as prime minister in the Netherlands
Despite a tax scandal and criticism towards Rutte's pandemic management, his popularity has not been affected in the polls
The Netherlands faces the risk of a lengthy coalition forming period, as potential coalition parties show significant political differences
Despite facing a tax scandal and pandemic management criticism, current polls indicate that Mark Rutte’s party - the VVD - is largely immune to the previous crises that have occurred in the Netherlands. The question remains: who will Rutte form a coalition with next?
On March 17, the Netherlands will go to the polls to elect a new parliament and prime minister. It will do so in a context of continuing lockdown measures that have been in place since December to curb the spread of COVID-19. Despite accusations in parliament and among Dutch citizens that the demmissionary government is pursuing an inconsistent and ineffective corona approach, current polls place the VVD (People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy) as the strongest party.
Additionally, Rutte’s government resigned on January 15 over a child benefits scandal that goes back to 2013. Thousands of parents were wrongly accused of committing tax fraud, causing financial and psychological consequences for the families involved. After the scandal came to light, Rutte’s government did not see the need to resign at first, arguing that the Netherlands needed a source of stability during the pandemic. However, after a damning report was released in parliament, the other coalition parties and opposition parties in parliament saw a resignation as unavoidable. As a result, the Netherlands now has a demissionary cabinet, meaning that the government will only stay on in caretaker capacity until a new coalition emerges after the elections. Although the scandal did occur during Rutte’s previous administration, Rutte claims he had no direct involvement in the case. As such, he believes he can continue to lead the VVD.
While the Netherlands also experienced significant riots after the decision was made to impose a nation-wide curfew, none of these crises seem to affect Rutte’s or the VVD’s popularity. In fact, polls indicate that with a predicted 25% of the votes, the VVD will come out stronger than it did in 2017. These predictions are in line with Rutte’s image as a crisis manager: throughout the current election, Rutte has emphasized the management of the pandemic while avoiding confrontation with other parties. It is highly likely that Rutte will win a fourth term as prime minister, meaning he will add another four years to his 11-year long leadership. The uncertainty lies with the future coalition that needs to be formed after the elections.
Following a record-breaking and lengthy coalition forming period in 2017, the VVD (center-right) is currently in a demissionary coalition with CDA (Christian Democratic Appeal, center to center-right), D66 (Democrats 66, center-left), and CU (Christian Union, center to center-right). Various political parties, including the VVD, have already ruled out a future coalition with the second largest party, the PVV (Party for Freedom, far-right). While the polls predict that the current demissionnary coalition would win enough seats to form a new coalition after next week’s elections, it is uncertain whether that will happen. Throughout the election period, the differences between these parties have been highlighted. Sigrid van Kaag, party leader for D66, called Rutte’s actions with regards to the EU Recovery Fund last summer “short-sighted”. Furthermore, the CU and D66 are in strong disagreement about potential vaccination passports and abortion, making it less likely that these parties will agree to be in a future coalition together. Other alternatives include GroenLinks (Green Left, center-left to left-wing) and PvdA (Labour Party, center-left), who have already stated they aim to be in a coalition together to form a progressive-left front, or not at all. While Rutte has not excluded these parties from a potential coalition, it remains to be seen whether the many differences between these parties can be bridged. This leaves any guarantee for future coalitions undecided, although CDA and D66 are the most likely candidates. As such, the main risk the Netherlands is facing is having another lengthy coalition forming period - this time with the added pressure of the pandemic.
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