AMSTERDAM (Reuters) -Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s chances of forming a new government suffered a major setback on Friday, as parliament passed a motion disapproving of his behavior and saying he had “not spoken the truth”.
Lawmakers called for a new independent investigator to oversee preliminary formation talks after March 17 elections in which Rutte’s conserative VVD party took most votes.
Rutte, acting as caretaker prime minister, survived a no-confidence vote and will be allowed to continue in that role as the coronavirus pandemic continues.
The investigator, who has not yet been named, will “see what possibilities there are to restore confidence,” said the motion filed by the D-66 and Christian Democrat parties, the most likely allies of the VVD Party in a future coalition.
“Parliament has given me a serious message and I will try my very best to win back confidence,” a relieved Rutte told reporters after the debate.
The formation of the new government has been set back at least several weeks by the affair and it is no longer clear Rutte will have the respect needed to lead a fourth Cabinet.
Sigrid Kaag, who took the second most votes in the elections that had been seen as a referendum on Rutte’s performance during the pandemic, was bluntly skeptical.
“If I were him, I would not continue”, she said when asked about Rutte’s position.
The crisis became acute on Thursday after Rutte acknowledged having privately discussed what job should go to a prominent member of parliament who had been critical of his previous Cabinet. Rutte had previously said he did not do so, but notes from a meeting emerged showing he had.
“The only thing I can do here is say from the bottom of my heart … that I never lied,” Rutte said in parliament on Thursday.
Rutte, a 54-year-old conservative who has been in office for more than 10 years, pointed to his record and said he hoped to continue leading the country.
Talks on forming a new government were abruptly put on hold on March 25 when one of the chief negotiators unwittingly revealed a sensitive document to a news photographer. She left it in view as she rushed out of parliament after learning that she had tested positive for COVID-19.
The document showed that negotiators were discussing a position “elsewhere” for popular MP Pieter Omtzigt, a prominent Christian Democrat who had been critical of Rutte’s previous Cabinet. The cryptic “elsewhere” remark has been interpreted as implying either outside parliament or outside the Netherlands.
Omtzigt, who was sworn in as a member of parliament on Wednesday, said the implication he should be removed was “an affront to the Dutch voter”.
(Reporting by Bart Meijer and Toby Sterling; Editing by Michael Perry and Stephen Coates)