Will the Netherlands be rudderless without Rutte?

Say hello, wave goodbye: Mark Rutte has been PM for almost 13 years. Photo: Ale Mi via Depositphotos

The Dutch are gearing up for the polls in November. Our regular columnist Molly Quell wonders how much of a shock it will be when Mark Rutte is not the winner.

When now-caretaker prime minister Mark Rutte first assumed office in 2010, the iPad was just six months old. The Wikileaks revelations were only three months old. Instagram had its first post only days before Rutte swore his oath.

If you’re a Dutch voter under the age of 35, you’ve never turned up to the polls and had the outcome be something other than Rutte.

No wonder it was such a shock to the system when he abruptly announced earlier this year that he wouldn’t stand in elections again. After he tanked the governing coalition over a manufactured crisis.

Adding to the chaos, it seems every single other politician decided to follow in Rutte’s footsteps.


In fact, none of the party leaders from the previous coalition is staying in politics. D66 leader and finance minister Sigrid Kaag bailed out, citing the negative impact of her job on her family.

Then CDA leader Wopke Hoekstra, the erstwhile foreign minister, said he would not stand for election in November. He’s headed for Brussels to be the next climate tzar. The long-standing leader of the minor Christian party ChristenUnie, Gert-Jan Segers, got ahead of the curve by quitting in January.

When it comes to political leaders, what the Dutch value above all else is consistency. Before Rutte, it was Jan Peter Balkenende, Wim Kok and Ruud Lubbers. Lubbers came to power in 1982. Four leaders in the previous 41 years.

The Brits, meanwhile, have gone through five prime ministers in just over six.

Since 1982, the United States has had eight chiefs, Australia has had 12 and Britain nine. Italy has had so many leaders in the last 40 years that I gave up counting.

It’s like the captain, first mate, second mate, chief, cook and bottle washer all abandoned the ship and left the Dutch adrift in a vast expanse of ocean.

As with any system where there is suddenly a vacuum of power, the remaining structures get, well, weird. Dutch politics is no different.

The farmers’ party BBB, which surged in provincial elections, has a party leader who doesn’t want to be the prime minister and is putting forward an ex-CDA Covid truther. Peter Omzigt of “functie elders” fame has started his own party which won’t release its party manifesto until three weeks before the election. GroenLinks-PvdA have decided to unite under the leadership of hipster Santa Claus Frans Timmermans, who has just returned from Brussels.

It’s unclear what the main points of the election will even be. The government fell over the number of asylum seekers but no one is talking about refugees much any more. Instead, the new budget focuses on poverty, but everyone agrees the financial plans are meaningless because they were created by a caretaker government.

Meanwhile, actress Carice van Houten is trying to break a record for the number of times someone has been arrested on the A12.

In the beginning

Rutte didn’t have a very auspicious start to his term. The EU was bailing out Ireland, the IMF was bailing out Greece and the Deepwater Horizon was pumping gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

Whoever follows in his footsteps will be likely to face even bigger challenges. A warming planet. Polarisation. More and more refugees. Stikstof will probably make a comeback.

And the next prime minister will probably also not have the staying power of Grey’s Anatomy or skinny jeans.

I really hope not, anyway. The loose fit is much more comfortable.

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