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Dutch Labour leader Samsom seen as PM after meteoric rise
by Staff Writers
Utrecht, Netherlands (AFP) Sept 8, 2012

Outgoing Dutch PM takes aim as Labour draws level
The Hague (AFP) Sept 8, 2012 - Outgoing Liberal Prime Minister Mark Rutte Saturday took aim at his main rival ahead of the Dutch vote next week, as his slender lead over Labour dissolved in the latest opinion polls.

Four days before elections to choose a new parliament, a late poll result put Diederik Samsom's Labour Party (PvdA) neck-and-neck with Rutte's previously dominant VVD party.

"I don't see them as a threat to me," Rutte told the conservative daily tabloid De Telegraaf in an interview published Saturday, "but as a threat to the Netherlands."

Over the last two weeks, opinion polls have tracked the meteoric rise of Samsom's pro-Europe PvdA, which has closed on the VVD.

Finally on Saturday night, Dutch public broadcaster NOS, on its website, put both parties at 35 seats in their "political barometer".

The party that wins Wednesday's elections will be in charge of forming a new coalition government in the 150-seat lower house, and a new prime minister is chosen from its ranks -- usually the party leader.

In his interview with De Telegraaf, Rutte warned of the consequences of a Labour win.

""We'll see fewer jobs and the return of waiting lists in health care, he said. "This is dangerous for the Netherlands."

He claimed Labour's policies would see "76,000 jobs lost" while his party planned to create 285,000 new ones.

Asked whether he would consider forming a so-called "purple" coalition which would include the Liberals, Labour and the pro-Europe centre-right D66 party to get a majority in parliament, Rutte said it would be a "difficult choice."

Purple is the term derived for a coalition between the three parties, whose colours are blue, red and green.

"A purple cabinet, I think is a long way away," Rutte said.

But Samsom hit back, saying from the campaign trail in Utrecht that he was "surprised" by Rutte's attack.

"We shouldn't campaign by trying to scare each other," Samsom said.

"I thought that we were going to campaign with our own policies in order to draw voters towards us. Not by saying how bad the others are. I don't think anyone wants that."

Political scientist Andre Krouwel said Rutte's claims were an indication that the VVD, which won 31 seats in 2010 polls, ahead of the PvdA's 30, was feeling the heat from Labour's rising popularity.

"Labour is getting really close -- and the VVD must be feeling quite anxious that their own election strategies aren't working that well," he told AFP earlier, before the latest polls were released.

Samsom took over the reins of a dysfunctional Labour Party in March.

At the time the party had seen its popularity slump in opinion polls to the equivalent of a mere 14 seats. Two weeks ago, the PvdA was still sitting at 18 seats in polls.

But a campaign blitz that saw Samsom taking the initiative in a series of televised debates seemed to have galvanised many undecided voters earning the former Greenpeace activist the title of the "comeback kid" of Dutch politics.

Fellow party members however claimed Samsom's campaign success had already started earlier this year when he was chosen to lead the party, after which he set out to meet ordinary citizens throughout the country.

Dutch Labour leader Diederik Samsom handed out roses and promised a new Europe as he campaigned Saturday to achieve what seemed impossible just weeks ago: become the Netherlands' next prime minister.

"The Netherlands needs a party that understands that it's only with a properly functioning Europe that the Netherlands can function, only with a Europe that grows can the Netherlands have growth," Samsom told voters on the canal-lined streets of Utrecht ahead of Wednesday's election.

Red-clad activists from Samsom's centre-left Labour (PvdA) party and shoppers applauded the call to redefine the European Union's role.

Samsom, a veteran Greenpeace activist, has enjoyed a meteoric rise in the polls that has surprised voters and analysts in the eurozone's fifth largest economy.

With his broad grin and shaved head and wearing a shirt without a tie, Samsom tells his followers to believe in "the strength of the Netherlands."

"We have to build the future, we have to build a more social Netherlands, it's still possible!" said the politician dubbed the "comeback-kid" of Dutch politics.

While the Dutch economy grew by 0.2 percent in the second quarter compared to the first, the country's Central Statistics Bureau warned that "the Netherlands still finds itself in a period of poor economic conditions."

Samsom, 41, only took over the Labour party in March, a month before the ruling coalition led by the Liberal VVD collapsed.

He has risen steadily in the polls over the last two weeks and is now seriously being seen as a contender for the prime minister's post.

He has positioned his leftist party towards the centre to battle the sovereign debt crisis shaking the eurozone, arguing for targetted stimulus measures to kick-start growth.

"Just making savings will not solve the crisis and investing without thinking will only make it worse," Samsom said in Utrecht.

Instead, he offered a middle-of-the road alternative to austerity-driven VDD leader and current Prime Minister Mark Rutte on the one hand, and the hard-left Socialist Party leader Emile Roemer on the other.

Latest opinion polls suggest Samsom's PvdA will win 32 seats in the 150-seat lower house, and the VDD 33. Whichever party wins most votes gets the prime minister's job and the right to form a ruling coalition.

Many voters remain undecided and a poll on Thursday had 47 percent of voters who wanted Samsom as prime minister, compared to just 42 percent for Rutte.

Samsom's party is opposed to harsh austerity measures and plans to balance the budget by 2017, without paying too much attention to the eurozone's 3.0-percent deficit rule.

The party wants stimulus investments, while also taxing the financial sector and the richest incomes, promises similar to those made by French Socialist President Francois Hollande in his campaign earlier this year.

Roemer's Socialists, who are opposed to further EU integration, enjoyed a spike in popularity two weeks ago. Since then however, they have dropped back and are predicted to win 15 seats in Wednesday's vote, the fifth Dutch elections in 10 years.

The bounce in the polls for the Socialists was largely a casualty of strong performances in recent televised debates by Samsom, who is known as "The Quiz King", having in the past won several television quiz shows.

A feisty debater, Samsom does not shy from confrontation.

He became an MP in 2003 having been a Greenpeace activist for six years after which he ran a green energy company.

"So much the better if he's been a Greenpeace activist, he fights for what he believes in," young voter Jasmijn, 21, told AFP in Utrecht, clutching one of the party's red roses after listened to his speech.

Although Samsom was arrested at least 10 times during his work as an environmental activist, he does not have a criminal record.

Former colleagues say that Samsom, who studied nuclear physics after being shocked by the 1986 Chernobyl disaster as a child, entered politics to "make the world a better place."

"I learned that when you want to change something, really change something, you have to work through democracy: real change can only come from politics," he said during a televised debate earlier this month.


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