Mark Rutte and his Liberal People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) are on course for a comfortable victory in the national elections in the Netherlands, almost certainly securing the outgoing Prime Minister a fourth consecutive term.
After a lackluster campaign waged during the pandemic and seen as a referendum on government performance during the crisis, early exit polls suggested the VVD had won 36 of the 150 seats in Dutch parliaments, two more than in the election previous ones.
“The Netherlands have expressed their confidence in the VVD, in Mark Rutte, in this unprecedented crisis,” said Sophie Hermans, vice-chair of the party’s parliamentary group. “We succeeded, for the fourth time in a row. I’m very proud. “
The poll, carried out by Ipsos for the Dutch public broadcaster NOS, predicted that the progressive and pro-European party D66, a member of the outgoing Rutte coalition led by Foreign Minister Sigrid Kaag, finished second with 27 seats, in rise of eight and the best result of the party.
Geert Wilders’ far-right anti-Islam Freedom Party (PVV), meanwhile, lost three seats in the 2017 election, finishing third tied with another Rutte coalition partner, the Christians. -Democrats (CDA), with 14 seats.
On a disappointing night for the left, the Dutch Labor Party (PvdA) finished unchanged with five seats, while two other left parties, GreenLeft and the Socialist Party, both lost almost half of their seats to finish with eight each.
The far-right Forum for Democracy (FvD) won eight seats, the Party for the Animals six – one more than last time – and a newcomer, the pro and pan-European party Volt, won its first parliamentary seats with four. The participation rate was 81%.
Early results and in particular the strong performance of D66 suggest 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 MPs.
With a near-record 37 parties vying for elections and, according to the exit poll, 16 entering parliament, the form of any future government is still pending. Coalitions can take months, with negotiations in 2017 lasting a record 208 days.
Rutte ruled out a coalition with Wilders and with the far right, the leader of the Forum for Democracy which rejects Covid-type disease, Thierry Baudet, but said Finance Minister Wopke Hoekstra’s CDA would again be a “natural partner”.
“The next obvious Dutch coalition based on this result would be the center-right VVD-D66-CDA – essentially a continuation of the current government,” said Pepijn Bergsen, Chatham House researcher and Dutch specialist.
However, Rutte may decide to explore other permutations or consider adding a fourth party, Bergsen suggested, because such a combination “would only have a minimum majority and would be a long way from a majority in the majority. upper room ”.
With a nighttime curfew in place due to persistently high infection rates and the ban on public gatherings during the day, the election campaign was muted and carried out primarily through televised debates.
To limit the risk of a pandemic, elderly and at-risk voters voted on Monday and Tuesday before the polls opened for all other Wednesdays. Rutte said he was “cautiously” optimistic as he arrived by bicycle to vote at a school in The Hague.
“I am proud of what we have achieved over the past 10 years in the Netherlands,” said Rutte, adding that the country had “the best performing economy in Europe”. The main question was “who can best lead this country through the corona crisis and then make a fresh start,” he said.
The Netherlands has recorded more than 1.1 million infections and 16,000 deaths, and largely remains under its tightest lockdown to date. Anti-lockdown discontent continues to simmer, with protests against Rutte in The Hague on Sunday.
But the popular prime minister, known as “Teflon Mark”, came out unscathed from the violent anti-lockdown riots and the fact that his cabinet was forced to resign in January following a scandal in which thousands of parents were falsely accused of fraudulently claiming child custody. advantages.