dpa/GNA – Acting Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s party has won the most seats in the country’s general election, according to preliminary results late on Wednesday.
According to initial forecasts on broadcaster NOS, Rutte’s centre-right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy has won about 23 per cent of the vote. With 36 seats, it is by far the strongest force in the House of Representatives.
The results, which were expected, could mean Rutte will serve a fourth term as head of government after 10 years in the role. Rutte said he was willing to stay on: “I have enough energy for ten more years,” he asserted.
The big election surprise, however, was the showing by the liberal D66 party, with top candidate Sigrid Kaag, which came in second with 27 mandates, according to initial results.
The party’s success is due to the popularity of Kaag, the 59-year-old foreign trade minister who, according to analysts, speaks six languages.
Kaag showed interest late on Wednesday in her party’s again joining in a multi-party coalition with Rutte at the helm, but indicated that she would prefer another progessive party to also join.
With D66 in second, the party of right-wing populist Geert Wilders is knocked into third place.
Seventeen parties – out of a record 37 with candidates in the race – made it into parliament, forecasts showed.
Three extreme right-wing parties will be represented in the House of Representatives, with a projected total of 30 seats – a significant increase compared to 2017.
In contrast, left-wing parties, Social Democrats, Socialists and the Greens recorded significant losses.
The final result is not expected until Thursday.
The Netherlands saw strong voter turnout on Wednesday, the last day of the country’s general election, a process that was stretched out across three days due to health concerns amid the pandemic.
Turnout was 82 per cent, electoral officials said.
Postal voting rules were loosened for those aged 70 and up, and polling booths were set up in many more locations to prevent crowding and the risk of infection.
Some voters struggled to cast their ballots though, including Health Minister Hugo de Jonge. The minister took an expired passport with him to the polling booth and was initially refused permission to vote and cast his vote later after producing valid identification.
Analysts had predicted that Rutte could benefit in the race because his government is generally seen as having performed well against the coronavirus. The public broadly approves of his handling of the pandemic, despite continuing high infection rates and a death toll of some 16,000.
The pandemic and the state of the health care system topped voters’ concerns, polling suggested, alongside rising rents and the prices of homes, the climate and the environment.
Nearly all of the main parties promised “more government” in the future, as shortcomings in the health care system have become apparent amid the pandemic, with Dutch patients having to be treated in Germany, for example.
Rutte’s margin of support on this topic has shrunk in recent months, and there is some anger about the recent lockdowns, especially a night-time curfew.
He is also currently serving only as an acting prime minister because his government had to step down recently amid a scandal about parents forced to repay child-care benefits, sometimes erroneously.
It remains to be seen whether Rutte can rebuild his current coalition, which consists of his party, the centre-right Christian Democratic Appeal, the conservative Christian Union and the D66.
Coalition negotiations in the Netherlands are traditionally lengthy and complicated as they always involve four or five parties.
This year, though, Rutte has called for speed, saying, he hoped that given the pandemic, everyone was aware a quick result was needed.