If the polls are not completely wrong, the most important result of the Dutch parliamentary election this Wednesday is already certain: the right-wing liberal People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy is leading by far, and its top candidate Mark Rutte is likely to be head of government again despite the recent sharp falls. It would be his fourth term since 2010, and if he held out until October 16, 2022, he would replace Christian Democrat Ruud Lubbers as the longest-serving Prime Minister in Dutch history.
A year ago, before the pandemic, the re-election of the 54-year-old would not have been so certain. But in the face of the virus, Rutte was able to slip into his favorite role: that of the hardworking, seemingly above the parties problem solver and carer who guides the country through the crisis. Whereby one can certainly criticize his Corona course. Rutte had probably underestimated the danger; in his first TV address on the subject, he told the fairy tale of herd immunity that would soon be achieved, which his scientific advisor Jaap van Dissel had served him. After that, Rutte obeyed his compatriots’ urge for freedom by initially refraining from overly strict measures or even requiring a mask. Only when the contagion numbers left him no choice did the Protestant become a strict admonisher who, against his inner convictions, even ordered a night curfew.
He has formed a coalition with Christian Democrats, Social Democrats and left-wing liberals
Rutte’s other balance sheet is mixed. A stable economy is offset by a lack of housing and major problems in education and health care, which, in the opinion of many, have been systematically saved. How did the trained historian, who worked for some time as a manager at the Unilever group, still stay at the top for so long? Its decisive quality, as you can read in his biographers, is the suppleness, malevolent people speak of smoothness. Rutte is the opposite of stubborn: if danger threatens, he keeps his finger in the wind, he never lays down too early to give in if necessary. Rutte has formed a coalition with Christian Democrats, Social Democrats and left-wing liberals, he knows how to deal with all of them.
Only with the radical Islamic critic Geert Wilders, whom he attributes a trauma to: the case of his first cabinet, which Wilders surprisingly withdrew his “tolerance” in 2012. The duels between the two, whether in parliament or on television, have become constants in Dutch politics. Sometimes emotions flash up with Rutte, who otherwise prefers the rhetorical hugging strategy: apparently approving the opponent, sprinkling in compliments, downplaying problems. “The man is such a happily waving Labrador,” wrote a columnist recently, that his colleagues “are clearly having trouble not to stroke him.”
It was always others who had to pay for scandals and crises
His flexibility helped Rutte to wriggle out of the scandals and crises that accompanied his reign. The others always had to pay. This can be seen, for example, in the childcare allowance affair. For years the state had unjustifiably reclaimed money from thousands of parents, thereby driving some to bankruptcy. Rutte and his cabinet resigned in January because of this and are now only in office. But he himself, although mainly responsible, has started again.
What voters apparently like about the head of government are his youthful, slightly mischievous charm and ostentatious modesty. Single Rutte lives in a three-room apartment in The Hague, cycles to the office and gives voluntary social studies lessons in a school every Thursday evening. He tries to hide his aesthetic interests as much as possible. What the good piano player once failed spectacularly when, bored, immersed himself in a biography of Chopin at an EU summit.