Prime minister Jan Peter Balkenende used Sunday’s pre-election radio debate – featuring seven party leaders – to call Labour (PvdA) leader Wouter Bos ‘dishonest’, thereby setting the tone for the election campaign.
Balkenende’s comments came when the two clashed over plans by Christian Democrats (CDA) to make it easier for employers to sack staff.
Bos said he was astonished that the CDA intended to change the rules on redundancy. Balkenende then reminded Bos that he himself had made similar statements. ‘You are a turncoat and you are dishonest,’ Balkenende said. Bos urged the prime minister to remain polite, saying it was not good for the tone of the debate if party leaders insulted each other. Personal attacks are not the norm in Dutch political debating.
Despite their differences, the two did not rule out forming a CDA/PvdA coalition after the November 22 vote; a position which Liberal (VVD) leader Mark Rutte said was ‘extremely worrying’. The VVD is the third-biggest party behind the CDA and PvdA.
The Dutch political system – a 150-seat lower house divided up according to proportional representation – inevitably leads to coalition governments.