There is growing speculation on Friday that the decision to expel the outspoken former integration minister Rita Verdonk from the right-wing Liberal party (VVD) could result in Mark Rutte losing his position as party leader.
A splinter group of VVD members calling themselves the Liberaal Network intends to call for Rutte to step down as party leader and reinstate Verdonk at Saturday’s party congress, reports today’s Volkskrant. Top party officials may also resign.
On Thursday evening Verdonk’s advisor Ed Sinke said in a tv interview that there could be an attempt to mend the break between Verdonk and the VVD and mentioned former party leaders Frits Bolkestein and Frans Weisglas as potenial mediators.
The VVD is in crisis following the decision by Rutte on Thursday to expel Verdonk. ‘There is no confidence any more in Rita as a colleague,’ Rutte told reporters. His decision came after Verdonk once again criticised the party leadership despite agreements that she would refrain from commenting on issues outside her own portfolio.
Several prominent VVD members and a number of MPs are unhappy with the decision to get rid of Verdonk and three MPs have hinted that they may join her if she decides to form a new party.
But others support Rutte’s decision saying that it was ‘inevitable’ given her continual challenges to his leadership. Former deputy prime minister Gerrit Zalm told the Financieele Dagblad that Vedonk’s departure was ‘a pity but inevitable’.
Verdonk won more votes than Rutte in last year’s general election and has a considerable following within the VVD and among the public. A poll by tv current affairs programme EénVandaag yesterday said that 74% of VVD voters did not think Verdonk should have been been kicked out of the party.
Verdonk told reporters that she had been wrongly quoted by the press and that she was ‘shocked’ at the decision to expel her. She said she needed time to consider her next step but did not have plans to join Geert Wilders’ anti-immigration PVV party.
Wilders set up the PVV three years ago after leaving the VVD and said on tv yesterday that he would welcome Verdonk to his group.
There is also growing speculation that Verdonk could set up her own party. She won 620,000 votes in November’s general election which is good for nine seats in parliament.
The Verdonk crisis is set to dominate tomorrow’s party congress.
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