Dutch caretaker Prime Minister Mark Rutte was censured in parliament early Friday morning after narrowly surviving a no-confidence vote, raising major doubts about his ability to form a new coalition government.
Rutte, whose center-right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) finished first in last month’s parliamentary election, and put him in position to build a fresh coalition and stay in power. But just days ago, everything was upended when documents emerged contradicting Rutte’s account that he had not discussed one of his most persistent critics in coalition talks.
On Thursday, Rutte appeared before parliament to explain himself, with his political future hanging in the balance.
“The only thing I can do here is say from the bottom of my heart, my toes, say what happened, what went well, what went wrong, that I never lied,” Rutte told lawmakers, according to Reuters.
While Rutte survived the no-confidence vote, parliament did formally reprimand him with a “motion of disapproval,” alleging Rutte had “not spoken the truth,” according to media reports. It was filed by two parties in his outgoing coalition.
The original motion for a no-confidence had been proposed by far-right politician Geert Wilders. Wilders accused Rutte of “lying to the whole of the Netherlands” and “shamelessly” pushing parliament aside.” Wopke Hoekstra, leader of the Christian Democrats, one of Rutte’s coalition partners in the outgoing government, described the situation as a “total mess.”
Sigrid Kaag of the liberal D66 party, which had looked likely to form a new coalition with Rutte after gaining more seats in the last election, told Rutte: “our paths part here.”
“My trust in Mr. Rutte has been seriously dented today,” Kaag told Parliament early morning on Friday, according to the Associated Press. “The distance between him and me is wider. I regret that.”
The government formation process was halted last week after one of the two officials tasked with sounding out the positions of the various parties, Home Affairs Minister Kajsa Ollongren, tested positive for the coronavirus.
Ollongren left the parliamentary complex with a pile of briefing notes visible to photographers. One note suggested Rutte and Kaag were set to discuss Christian Democrat MP Pieter Omtzigt, whose work exposing a child benefit scandal led to the fall of Rutte’s previous government.
The reveal set of a firestorm, since Rutte had previously told reporters on March 25 he had not discussed Omtzigt’s in coalition talks — a claim the notes contradicted.
Rutte denied during a debate with lawmakers on Thursday that he had lied, saying he “did not remember” he had discussed the issue.
“I addressed the press in good conscience. I misremembered it afterwards, and deeply regret that,” Rutte said.
CORRECTION: This article has been amended to correct the name of Mark Rutte’s political party. It is the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy.
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