Dutch PM Rutte under pressure despite surviving vote

The Hague (AFP) –


Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte remained under pressure on Friday despite narrowly surviving a no-confidence vote over his handling of coalition talks in the toughest crisis of his decade in power.

Rutte, whose liberal VVD party won the most seats in elections in March, was formally condemned by parliament over claims that he covered up efforts to rein in an outspoken MP during coalition negotiations.

Dubbed "Teflon Mark" for his ability to dodge a series of scandals, Rutte could now face difficulty in building a new government as other parties say they have lost trust in him.

But Rutte, one of Europe's longest serving leaders, refused to resign and said he would continue "step by step" to forge his fourth coalition since taking office in 2010.

"I got 1.9 million votes, so it would be crazy to step aside two weeks after the election," Rutte was quoted as telling reporters by broadcaster RTL. Nieuws on Friday, hours after the overnight vote.

His most likely partners in a coalition, the centre-left D66 party and the centre-right Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA), helped him defeat the no-confidence motion after a marathon debate.

But both of them both voted in favour of the so-called censure motion that criticised his behaviour, casting his ability to lead months-long coalition negotiation into serious doubt.

"I wouldn't have carried on, but I'm a different person," Kaag, whose party won the second most seats after Rutte in the election, said when asked if he should have resigned.

- No longer 'credible' -

The youth wings of the D66, the CDA and the right-wing ChristenUnie party, which was also part of his old coalition, said on Friday that their parties should not start talks with the VVD until Rutte had quit.

"We no longer consider him a credible leader of the Netherlands," ChristenUnie youth leader Bina Chirino told Nederlands Dagblad newspaper.

The row erupted last week, when coalition talks were halted after one negotiator rushed out of parliament on learning she had tested positive for Covid-19, and a photographer snapped the notes she was carrying.

The name of CDA lawmaker Pieter Omtzigt's name appeared in the notes with the words "position elsewhere" -- widely seen as meaning that he should be given a ministerial post to keep him quiet.

Omtzigt was a whistleblower in a childcare scandal that caused Rutte's previous government to resign en masse in January, leaving Rutte in his current role of caretaker prime minister.

That scandal saw thousands of parents falsely accused of child benefit fraud. Some were racially profiled.

Rutte told the media last week that he had not discussed a job for Omtzigt -- but on Thursday he admitted that he had "remembered that wrong", while documents from the talks showed he had discussed making Omtzigt a minister.

Far-right leader Geert Wilders, whose PVV (Freedom Party) is the third largest in parliament, said Rutte had "shamelessly lied" and must resign.

"I will continue as prime minister, I will work terribly hard to regain trust," Rutte told parliament after the no-confidence vote.