Rutte: “Voters switched from VVD to PVV to keep Timmermans out”

Rutte held a press conference with German chancellor Olaf Scholz earlier in the day. Photo: DPA/Kay Nietfeld via ANP

Outgoing prime minister Mark Rutte has claimed that Geert Wilders owed his election success to large numbers of VVD voters switching sides at the last minute to stop Frans Timmermans becoming prime minister.

Rutte spoke about the election outcome, in which his party finished third with 24  seats, behind both Wilders’s PVV and the GroenLinks-PvdA left-wing alliance headed by Timmermans, for the first time during a visit to Berlin on Monday.

After meeting German chancellor Olaf Scholz and visiting the Bundestag, Rutte answered questions from an audience of students at the Hertie School of Governance, a private university in the capital city.

The caretaker prime minister said around one in five voters switched from VVD to PVV on the last night of the campaign to stop Timmermans taking the initiative in forming the next government.

“Somehow they made the calculation, based on the opinion polls, that they then had to vote for Wilders’ party,” he said.

“From my party 20% of the voters switched overnight to Wilders. Not because they liked his programme, but because they wanted to prevent Timmermans from becoming prime minister.”

Support for Yesilgöz

Rutte did not speculate on why voters believed the PVV was more likely than the VVD, which lost 10 seats, to become the largest party.

He repeated his support for the current VVD leader Dilan Yesilgöz’s decision to abandon the party’s position of not working with Wilders unless he retracted his calls for “fewer Moroccans”.

“I was and I still am in favour of what my successor did in terms of no longer excluding the PVV from being in a coalition,” he said.

But he reassured his audience that the Netherlands would retain its position at the heart of the EU in spite of the PVV’s anti-European stance and Wilders’s pledge to hold a referendum on Nexit.

“I don’t know what will come out of the formation of a new coalition but … 76% of the voters did not vote for him and not all his voters are anti-EU.

“So I think you can safely assume that if there is a coalition with him, that coalition will still keep the Netherlands at the centre of the European Union.”

Earlier in the day Rutte and Scholz gave a joint press conference to reaffirm Europe’s financial and military support for Ukraine “now and in the future” in its fight against “the Russian aggressor”.

Constitutional guarantees

A referendum on Nexit is likely to be one of the issues discussed in the next stage of the talks to form a right-wing coalition from the parties PVV, VVD, NSC and BBB, along with the PVV’s pledge to end military aid for Ukraine.

Coalition scout Ronald Plasterk concluded his survey of the parties’ viewpoints, which included a second round of one-on-one talks between the four leaders, on Monday with a recommendation to hold another preliminary round to see if their their differences on the constitution could be reconciled.

Timmermans, who has effectively ruled out any chance of forming an alternative coalition across the centre, responded with a post on X casting doubt on the credibility of the process.

“So now we’re going to spend a month and a half negotiating on the question of whether we can guarantee the constitution, our constitutional rights and the democratic rule of law? Who would have thought it possible?” he wrote.

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