Former minister Hennis drops out of VVD race to succeed Rutte

Hennis has worked for the UN in Iraq since 2018. Photo: AFP/Hussein Faleh

Former defence minister Jeanine Hennis has become the third senior VVD politician to rule themselves out of succeeding Mark Rutte after the prime minister announced he will quit politics after the general election.

Hennis, 50, has been the UN secretary general’s special representative in Iraq since 2018. She told RTL Nieuws on Tuesday she would not be standing as a candidate in the forthcoming leadership election.

She was the number two candidate behind Rutte for the VVD in the 2017 election and was seen as a potential successor, but resigned as defence minister shortly before the election after taking responsibility for shortcomings in the ministry’s equipment.

On Monday former health minister Edith Schippers said she would not be among the contenders, having recently been chosen to head the party’s Senate faction.

And Klaas Dijkhoff, the former justice minister who was once seen as the most likely successor to Rutte, also ruled himself out, saying the job was not compatible with raising a family.

The current justice minister, Dilan Yesilgöz, has said she is still considering whether to stand, but would be a strong candidate if she did. A panel poll by RTL found 68% of VVD voters thought she was a suitable candidate.

Parliamentary group leader Sophie Hermans, another possible contender, said on Tuesday evening she had “no ambition” to lead the party.

The only declared candidate is former MP André Bosman, but he is not seen as a realistic contender. However, his declaration means the VVD will have to hold a contest under the party’s statutes.

Kaag ‘decided’

There is also speculation D66 may need to find a new leader for the election after Sigrid Kaag’s family said they were concerned about her personal safety. Kaag has been the target of online abuse from supporters of right-wing parties such as Forum voor Democratie.

The finance minister has also been confronted outside her home and at election meetings by protesters wielding burning torches.

Kaag told NOS she had already decided whether to fight another election as D66 leader before thev government collapsed last week, but has not yet gone public with her decision. She said it had been taken on “purely personal” grounds.

CDA field narrows

Two former CDA leaders have said they will not seek re-election to succeed foreign affairs minister Wopke Hoekstra, who said on Monday he would not lead the party into the election in November.

Hugo de Jonge, who was health minister during the pandemic, and Pieter Heerma, the party’s parliamentary leader, both ruled themselves out of the contest on Monday.

Potential candidates include the CDA’s agriculture spokesman Derk Boswijk, party veteran and junior finance minister Marnix van Rij, and former MP Mona Keijzer.

Keijzer lost two previous CDA leadership elections to Sybrand Buma in 2012 and De Jonge in 2020. The following year she was sacked as junior minister for economic affairs after she gave an interview criticising the government’s coronavirus pass system, which required people to show proof they had been vaccinated before they could enter bars, restaurants and entertainment venues.

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