Mark Rutte survived a vote of no confidence after being caught in a scandal that could have put an abrupt end to his 11 years as Prime Minister of the Netherlands.
The veteran leader, including the right-wing Liberal Party for Freedom (VVD) comfortably won elections last month, opposition leaders and former coalition allies called for his resignation ahead of the no-confidence vote.
Rutte has been at the center of a scandal during talks over the appointment of a leading government spokesperson as minister of the new coalition government.
Last week, Rutte denied ever raising the question of whether Tory MP Pieter Omtzigt should sit in the next cabinet with officials in charge of coalition negotiations. It later emerged that Rutte made the suggestion after confidential coalition documents were made public.
In a parliamentary debate on Thursday, the prime minister said he had “forgotten” that the conversation had taken place. “I have spoken to the press to the best of my knowledge and conscience. I remember it badly and deeply regret it, ”said Rutte.
The episode drew sustained criticism against the 54-year-old who went through numerous crises during his tenure, earning him the nickname “Teflon Mark”.
Sigrid Kaag, leader of the liberal D66 and coalition partner in Rutte’s last government, said the prime minister’s forgetting statement was “not good enough” and that the two parties should “go their separate ways”.
“There has been a tendency to forget about it in recent years,” she said.
Rutte’s VVD established itself as a clear winner of the elections dominated by Covid-19 in mid-March. But the process of forming a coalition has been chaotic. Kajsa Ollongren, one of the MPs named ‘scout’ to lead the coalition talks, tested positive for Covid-19 last month, leading to criticism of negotiations in person and with participants not bearing of masks.
The controversy over Omtzigt began when a photographer captured Ollongren holding a negotiating document mentioning the Tory MP’s name as a talking point in the coalition talks.
Omtzigt, a member of the center-right Christian Democrats, was a thorn in the side of the previous government led by Rutte. He was instrumental in uncovering a tax scandal in which government officials falsely accused thousands of parents of defrauding the state, a case the cabinet was about. forced to resign in January.
However, this episode did not lead Rutte to relinquish his post and he remained interim Prime Minister.
The tax scandal also did not dent its popularity among voters in the March elections, with the VVD winning three seats and keep your position as the largest party in the lower house of parliament.
The vote of no confidence had presented Rutte with his most difficult test, as almost all opposition parties had lined up against him.
Geert Wilders, leader of the far-right PVV, accused Rutte of being a “born liar” in parliamentary debate. Greens leader Jesse Klaver said he blamed the PM for covering up the episode.
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