Our Dutch correspondent H. Numan reports on the latest labyrinthine twists and turns on the political scene since the recent parliamentary elections in The Netherlands.
by H. Numan
The continuing saga of the Dutch electoral farce: I reported about the elections, and later the gaffe made by the prime minister. It’s becoming a real Easter parody now: the PM had to explain himself before the Sanhedrin (Parliament) on White Thursday. He was crucified on Good Friday, but: verily, the Lord has risen! He survived a motion of no confidence by the skin of his teeth. He was saved by his coalition partner CU (Christian Union; Calvinist Marxists) who didn’t support the motion.
I’m not too fond of the CU, to put it mildly. For three reasons: I don’t like hypocrites, very strict Calvinists and I don’t like Marxists. Gert Jan Seegers is all of that. That makes him a pharisee par excellence in my book. A pharisee is someone who goes through the motions, without any real conviction. Others must see how devout or dedicated he or she is. Progressives excel here. Others must abide by rules they don’t abide themselves. Woe betide you if you don’t!
Well, Gert Jan Seegers (leader of the CU) voted to support the PM, but after the motion was passed, he said he doesn’t want govern with the VVD again. Good boy, that’s my hypocrite! If you feel that way, you should have supported the motion.
It’s difficult to say what is going to happen now, but it will make a new cabinet a LOT more difficult. I told you Dutch PMs usually don’t last more than 12 years. We don’t have a limit. A US president can be elected twice, on very rare occasions three times. A Dutch PM can be elected as often as he wants. However, about three terms seems to be the practical limit. No PM has ever served four terms.
Right now, Mark Rutte has a problem. He did survive the motion of no confidence, but not as the victor. His position is now seriously damaged. How much? A poll showed the electorate of all parties (except for VVD voters, of course) don’t want him to be the next prime minister. The percentages vary from 45 to 85%. Ouch. That hurts!
The problem dear leaders have is that they usually don’t have a spare on hand. Dear leaders don’t want to share their love of the people with anyone. Dear Mark is no exception. He did have a few successors, but had to toss them out for political reasons. For example, Halbe Zijlstra bragged he met Putin in his dacha. Pretty soon it was discovered he wasn’t even in Russia at the time. He was unceremoniously dumped and is working for a construction company now.
Long before that, Rutte eliminated all opposition within his party. The party does what Dear Mark wants. If you don’t, out you go. The last one to try was Rita Verdonk. She lost the internal elections for party leadership to Mark. Then she resigned from the party, and set up her own party TON. TON stands for Trots Op Nederland, or Proud About the Netherlands. Ton also means barrel. This proved to be a empty one. It got nowhere. The party quickly collapsed and doesn’t exist anymore.
Where Mark represents the most progressive wing within the VVD, Rita represented the conservative wing. When she resigned, many conservatives moved with her. The remaining conservatives got the message: be quiet. Be very very quiet!
It wasn’t Rutte who moved his party from conservative to progressive. That trend started long ago under Nijpels en Voorhoeve. Rutte merely finished it, and administered the coup de grâce. A couple of weeks ago Rutte admitted in an interview that he wasn’t a hardcore conservative at all. When he was young, for him it was a tossup between the conservatives and the labor party. He reckoned his career chances best in the conservative party, and the rest is history. That is a great way to make a career anywhere — except in politics. The reason why Margaret Thatcher was so immensely popular was her absolute driven motivation. She really was truly conservative. Her problem was that she was possibly too much motivated. Whereas Mark Rutte is only motivated… by himself, for himself.
Several parties, among them the PVV, are calling for new elections. Sorry, Geert. You of all people should know better. Democracy isn’t voting until you get what you want. Here are the election results, now form a cabinet. Go figure it out. That’s why you parliamentarians get paid so much.
Now we’re moving into the murky conspiracy waters: I think it was a set-up orchestrated by Sigrid Kaag or Kajsa Ollongren. It caught Rutte completely unawares, and he followed the script completely. Why? Look at the lady holding the visible papers. That’s Mrs. Ollongren, D66.
Tell me, if you are walking around with notes or paperwork, what do you do? Keep the printed site towards yourself, or towards the public? I personally always keep the printed site covered. Why? Because what’s on it is nobody’s business. No matter what. As we are talking about confidential notes here, I would be even more careful. Not so Mrs. Ollongren. She happily gave the world a nice peek at highly confidential papers. Coincidence? Perhaps, but I doubt it.
Sigrid Kaag wants to become the first female premier of the country. If she does, not only would she be the first female PM, she would be the first mohammedan premier of the country… and the first openly anti-Semitic PM. (Anton Mussert was never prime minister.) Now, Sigrid knows very well she hasn’t a hope in hell unless something completely changes. That something seems to be the unassailable position of Mark Rutte.
Of course, parliamentarians like to trip one another all the time. Just because they can. Or to establish dominance. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Sigrid Kaag told or suggested to Ollongren that she ‘make a mistake’. Or Ollongren did so herself, without orders. No matter what, it succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.
Rutte lied in saying that the position of Pieter Omtzigt was not discussed. A huge mistake, as the House didn’t accept that answer, and demanded evidence. That evidence was quickly produced. Rutte was able to save his political skin by apologizing profusely. He looked like a deer caught in the headlights.
Ironically, he didn’t have to lie. All he had to do is tell the (probable) truth: ‘Sure, we discussed his position. I’m considering him for a cabinet position.’ The House would have accepted that answer immediately, and even complimented him for being so honest about it. It might even be true. Instead, he went into damage control mode. Denied everything, he had no clear memory of it, etc. Not the first time he’s done that, but this time it didn’t work.
Which places Mark Rutte, his party and a new coalition in a completely new situation. Technically, Mark Rutte is politically dead. He just doesn’t want to admit it as yet. It’s possible (or: not completely impossible) that he may recover himself, but this time he is really deep down in doo-doo. Rutte has been in difficult situations before, but this time he has to fight against the past-due date. PMs don’t usually last longer than three terms. Had he been in this kind of trouble earlier, he could have (and did) fight his way out.
Let’s assume Ollongren/Kaag played this trick on purpose. It definitely worked beyond their wildest expectations. But… it is useless. D66 cannot form a cabinet. 24 seats are not enough. Having kicked Rutte so hard in his family jewels, don’t expect the VVD to happily forget or forgive it. Even if D66 can manage to get each and every left-wing party to work together, it’s still not enough to form a cabinet.
I doubt the Christian Democrats would want to take advantage of situation. Both the VVD and the Christian Democrats are somewhat progressive; participating in an ultra-left-wing cabinet where they would be minority partner is a bridge too far. Their electorate wouldn’t stand for it.
It’s extremely unlikely new elections will be called. Certainly not two weeks after the last election. You can poll all you want, but the present results are what you have to work with. Those results aren’t easy to work with. Simply because most parties already stated they didn’t want to work with this or that party. Most parties, notably CDA and VVD, boycott the PVV.
A VVD-PVV-CDA-??? cabinet is possible, but boycotted. A entirely left-wing cabinet is impossible. If Rutte finds out Kaag or Ollongren pulled a fast one on him, he won’t be happy working again with D66.
Right now, it looks like we’re going to see a looooooooooooooong formation period.
— H. Numan