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Dutch PM Rutte starts tough task of building coalition
by Staff Writers
The Hague (AFP) Sept 13, 2012

Dutch Liberal Prime Minister Mark Rutte began hammering out behind closed doors Thursday the coalition he will lead after receiving a solid mandate to battle Europe's debt crisis.

Rutte's ruling VVD won Wednesday's election with 41 seats, just three more than centre-left Labour, at the expense of anti-Europe populist parties like Geert Wilders' far-right party, which suffered a humiliating defeat, and far-left Socialist leader Emile Roemer who made no gains.

"As leader of the largest party I feel a particular sense of responsibility and therefore I don't want to comment," on coalition-forming, the premier told public broadcaster NOS after the first meeting of his own parliamentary group.

"I'm calling for radio silence," he said when asked if he had spoken to his most likely main coalition partner, Labour leader Diederik Samsom.

Earlier Rutte told the party faithful "we will not betray your trust," after the VVD won the most seats ever, running against a European trend that has seen governments toppled as the debt crisis bites ever deeper.

The election success of Rutte's VVD, closely followed by rising star Samsom's PvdA, means that the new coalition will be moderate and marks a victory for parties committed to debt-busting austerity.

The vote reflected the Netherlands' commitment to its relationship with the rest of Europe and will keep the eurozone's fifth largest economy closely allied with economic powerhouse Germany.

-- 'Great result for Europe' --

In Brussels, European Parliament President Martin Schulz welcomed the outcome, calling it a "great result for Europe" as Dutch voters rejected anti-EU parties.

Claes de Vreese, political communication lecturer at the University of Amsterdam, told AFP: "This is one of the only leaders in Europe that has had elections right in the middle of the crisis and who was re-elected.

"In fact, when you look at the results, he wasn't only re-elected but his support grew."

If the two main parties agree an alliance, the VVD and Labour would have 79 seats, a majority in the 150-seat parliament but the coalition would likely want more partners.

A new prognosis ahead of the final tally, still to be announced by the Electoral Commission, showed Labour losing one seat from 39 to 38 to environmental party GreenLeft.

Party chiefs met parliamentary speaker Gerdi Verbeet earlier Thursday to decide on how best to form the next government, a parliamentary source close to the Liberals who asked not to be named told AFP.

Afterwards Henk Kamp, the Social Affairs Minister in Rutte's current cabinet, was appointed as coalition mediator -- on Rutte's recommendation -- and will now test the waters with various party leaders to discuss the finer details of cobbling together a coalition.

"I will start talks tomorrow (Friday)" with the leaders of various parliamentary groups, represented in parliament after Wednesday's vote including Rutte, Kamp told a press conference Thursday evening.

He is to report his findings to the new parliament which will debate the issue for the first time late next week.

But it will take weeks if not months for a new government to be agreed.

Nevertheless, VVD leaders have not yet publicly extended a hand to the PvdA, and the VVD mayor of The Hague, Jozias van Aartsen, insisted it would be difficult for the parties to work together.

"There are two strong winners that are really very different from each other," the former foreign minister told state-owned Radio 1.

Fiscally prudent Rutte's government has been allied to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, while Samsom's calls for stimulus echo those of France's Socialist President Francois Hollande.

Both parties had lashed out at the EU status quo during campaigning, but the Dutch export-based economy could not afford to call into question membership in the bloc, where it sends 75 percent of its exports.

Samsom, a former Greenpeace activist and nuclear physicist, has enjoyed a stellar rise thanks to his success in televised debates, with opinion polls just a month ago predicting his party would win only 15 seats.

The more hard-left Socialist Party won 15 seats, as did Wilders' PVV, a sharp drop from its previous tally of 24, according to results with around 98 percent of votes counted.

Wilders, who brought down the last government in April after refusing to approve an austerity-driven budget, is not expected to play any role in this coalition.

The PVV had vowed to pull out of the euro and the EU itself if it came to power. But many Dutch voters and the political mainstream decided that Wilders was simply unreliable.

Many Dutch citizens are fed up with bailing out indebted eurozone members while swallowing their own budget cuts, but voters had nevertheless been expected to shun anti-EU parties for the mainstream.



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How Dutch populist Wilders got it all wrong
The Hague (AFP) Sept 13, 2012
Dutch populist Geert Wilders seems for once to have misjudged voters after his resounding defeat in the Netherlands election but his political career is far from over, analysts said Thursday. The firebrand anti-Islam leader with the peroxide-bouffant, for years the best known politician outside the country, changed his target to the EU, hoping to capitalise on widespread unease at paying off ... read more

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