PM Rutte narrowly survives vote of no confidence
In a debate that went on until the early hours of the morning, Prime Minister Mark Rutte faced extensive questioning about his comments about Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) member Pieter Omtzigt in coalition negotiations.
At around 3am on Friday morning, Rutte narrowly survived a vote of no confidence that was presented in the House of Representatives on Thursday by Geert Wilders, leader of the Party for Freedom (PVV).
Coalition negotiator accidentally leaks confidential document
The chaos of the past week came about after a confidential document was photographed by journalists and leaked to the public when Kajsa Ollongren, one of the two representatives selected by the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) and D66 to carry out coalition negotiations, rushed from parliament on March 25 after testing positive for coronavirus.
Photos of the document revealed a number of issues that had come up in negotiations, including the fact that a majority in the Senate was not a priority, but the comment that caused a stir was a line about the CDA MP: “Position Omtzigt, function elsewhere.”
Omtzigt had acted as a whistleblower in the childcare benefit scandal, which led to the resignation of Rutte and his cabinet back in January.
Rutte denies discussing Omitzigt in coalition discussions
A number of party leaders - including CDA leader Wopke Hoekstra - were quick to announce that Omtzigt’s position had not come up in their conversations. On Thursday night, both Rutte and D66 leader Sigrid Kaag denied that the topic of Omtzigt and his potential position had come up in their coalition meetings. Rutte told the NOS “we have not talked about Pieter Omtzigt.”
The two scouts, Ollongren (D66) and Annemarie Jorritsma (VVD), were quick to resign, and by the end of Friday had been replaced by Tamara van Ark (VVD) and Wouter Koolmees (D66). With this, Rutte attempted to draw a line under the issue, telling the press that nobody was going to explain the note. Ollongren and Jorritsma took full responsibility for the contents of the document, emphasising that no party leader had spoken out about Omtzigt in meetings.
On March 31, the House requested a debate on the issue, and the Speaker, Khadija Arib, asked Koolmess and Van Ark to collect all available documents on the coalition formation and make them public. Rutte warned against this decision, suggesting it could impact the relationships between MPs, and offered to only publicise the notes from his meetings. His proposal was rejected by the House.
Dutch parliament debates Omtzigt comment
On Wednesday evening, Ollongren was informed by the new scouts that their documents reveal who had been the person to talk about Omtzigt: Prime Minister Mark Rutte.
Party leaders were presented with the scouts’ documents at 9am on Thursday, and were provided with an hour to go over the contents of all the documents. At 11:30, the papers were presented to the House of Representatives.
However, during the debate, Rutte revealed that a source had informed him at around 7.30 that morning that his name was mentioned in the notes as being the one to discuss Omtzigt’s position. Rutte refused to reveal the identity of his source. Ollongren, Van Ark, and Koolmees told the House that they had had no contact with the Prime Minister.
Coalition supports Rutte in no-confidence vote
Throughout the debate, Rutte maintained that he had not lied about his meetings with Ollongren and Jorritsma. Instead, he told the House time and time again that he had forgotten that he had said anything at all. Rutte, Ollongren, and Jorritsma said that the topic of Omtzigt’s position was mentioned so casually and so briefly that all three had forgotten that the conversation had taken place.
Party leaders attacked Rutte, questioning his reliability and trustworthiness as a leader in light of this new information. Kaag and GroenLinks leader Jesse Klaver highlighted a “pattern of forgetfulness” with Rutte. Wilders suggested holding another national election, and on Thursday afternoon submitted a vote of no confidence.
Rutte fought for his career, and when the vote was held at around 2.30 on Friday morning, saw 72 MPs support the vote of no confidence. All members of the opposition supported Wilders’ motion. However, Rutte had managed to secure the tenuous support of the coalition parties - D66, CDA, VVD, and ChristenUnie - achieving a narrow majority with 76 votes.
What happens now?
Rutte may have survived the no-confidence vote, however, D66 and CDA did submit a motion of censure, which received the support of all parties aside from the VVD. This leaves Rutte in a difficult position as he goes forward with negotiations to form his next coalition.
On Thursday night, both Van Ark and Koolmess stood down as coalition scouts. They will be replaced by only one negotiator, who will be “authoritative and independent,” further removed from the Dutch government than the scouts previously hired. Parliament hopes the negotiator will also speed up the coalition formation process and restore trust between the parties. It is not yet known who this negotiator will be.
Rutte said he takes the motion of censure very seriously, and that while he will continue as Prime Minister, he “will work terribly hard to regain trust.” He also apologised to Omtzigt.