Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte survived one of the biggest political battles of his decade in power on Friday and barely won a no-confidence vote over allegations that he lied about coalition negotiations.
Rutte will be called the “Teflon premiere” for his ability to avoid the scandal, but will still be under pressure after each party except his own supported a separate motion in parliament condemning his behavior.
Rutte, whose VVD party won the most seats in last month’s election based on his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, was accused of covering up efforts to curb a prominent MP during coalition negotiations.
“I will continue as Prime Minister, I will work terribly hard to regain confidence,” Rutte told parliament after the no-confidence vote.
He was supported by the two main parties that formed part of his former coalition, the center-left D66 and the center-right Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA), while all opposition parties voted against him.
Rutte is one of Europe’s longest-serving leaders after German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and will become the Netherlands’ longest-serving prime minister if he remains in power by the end of 2022.
Coalition negotiations were already expected to arrive until early summer, but may now take even longer.
The line broke last week when coalition negotiations were suspended after a negotiator rushed out of parliament after being told she had tested positive for Covid-19, and the notes she was carrying were snapped by a photographer.
The name of CDA legislator Pieter Omtzigt’s name appeared in the notes with the words “position elsewhere” – generally as if he should be given a ministerial post to keep him quiet.
Omtzigt was a whistleblower in a childcare scandal that led to Rutte’s previous government massively resigning in January, leaving Rutte in his current role as a guard.
The scandal involved thousands of parents who were wrongly accused of child benefit fraud. Some were racially profiled.
Rutte told the media at the time that he had not discussed a job for Omtzigt – but on Thursday he admitted that he “remembered it wrong”, while documents from the talks showed that he had discussed making Omtzigt a minister.
Rutte said he only remembered after receiving a phone call on Thursday morning – from a source he refused to identify.
“I did not lie,” Rutte told parliament before the motion of censure, which is trending on social media in the Netherlands under the hashtag #omtzigtdebat and was broadcast live on local TV channels.
His rivals ran fast.
“The Prime Minister lied shamelessly to the Netherlands for a week. But after ten years of government, the truth has come to him, said right-wing leader Geert Wilders, whose PVV party has the third most seats, in parliament.
“How will you regain trust?” asked Sigrid Kaag, the leader of the D66 party that came second in the election.
Rutte has survived a series of scandals and distrustful voices in the past, earning him the nickname in the Netherlands of “Teflon Premier”, after non-stick frying pan coating.
However, critics pointed out that he also has a habit of claiming memory delays during scandals such as the bombing of Iraqi civilians by the Dutch military and a series of corporate tax breaks.