‘Teflon’ Dutch prime minister faces fight for political survival accused of ‘telling lies’

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte faces a no-confidence vote Thursday over claims he lied about coalition talks, throwing efforts to form a new government after last month’s elections into turmoil.

Mr Rutte – whose liberal VVD party won the most seats on the back of his handling of the coronavirus pandemic – is accused of covering up the fact that he discussed sidelining an outspoken member of another party.

The MP, Pieter Omtzigt of the Christian Democrats, was a whistleblower in a childcare scandal that toppled Mr Rutte’s previous government in January, leaving Rutte in his current role of caretaker prime minister.

“I did not lie,” Mr Rutte told parliament ahead of the no-confidence motion.

Dutch media said the country was in “uncharted territory” if he loses the confidence vote, with his fate as caretaker premier and leader of the coalition talks unclear.

The row erupted last week after MP Omtzigt’s name was photographed in an official’s notes on the coalition talks with the words “position elsewhere”.

Mr Rutte told the media at the time he had not discussed the issue – but on Thursday he admitted that he had “remembered that wrong”, while documents from the talks showed he had discussed making Mr Omtzigt a minister.

“I regret it very much,” said Mr Rutte.

Fuelling the sense of mystery was Mr Rutte saying that he had only remembered after receiving a phone call on Thursday morning – from a source whom he refused to identify.

“The prime minister shamelessly lied to the Netherlands for a week. But after ten years of government, the truth has caught up with him,” far-right leader Geert Wilders, whose PVV party has the third most seats, said in parliament.

“How will you regain confidence?” asked Sigrid Kaag, the leader of the D66 party which came second in the election and was poised to become Mr Rutte’s main coalition partner.

Mr Rutte has survived a series of scandals and no-confidence votes in the past, earning him the nickname in the Netherlands of the “Teflon Premier”, after the non-stick frying pan coating.

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