Dutch local vote could deal sharp setback to national government

Dutch local vote could deal sharp setback to national government

Dutch local vote could deal sharp setback to national government

AP Photo

Dutch voters headed to the polls on March 18 in local elections that look set to deal a blow to Prime Minister Mark Rutte by indirectly undermining his center-right government in the upper house of parliament.

Provincial elections determine the make-up of the upper house because the winners get to pick new senators in May.

Rutte’s Liberal-Labor coalition already has to rely on the backing of three small opposition parties to pass legislation in the Senate, so a weak showing on March 18 means it will have to throw its net even wider to get laws and the budget approved.

An opinion poll on March 17 projected that the two ruling parties could end up with as few as 20 of the 75 seats in the Senate, against 30 at present.

The anti-Islam Freedom Party of Geert Wilders is vying for top spot in the provincial vote, but surveys have suggested that support for his party has slipped this month, meaning that it is likely to come in second place just behind Rutte’s Liberals.

Wilders, who has tapped into growing domestic discontent about immigration and the rise of militant Islam, had threatened to “paralyze” government if he secured enough senators.

However, Wilders has consistently underperformed on election day and recent polls suggest he won’t be able to command a blocking vote in the upper house.

Nonetheless, the ballot looks certain to complicate life for Rutte, whose coalition nearly collapsed in December halfway into a four-year term when just three senators rebelled against a proposed health reform, underscoring the fragility of the government’s position in the upper house.

Rutte and Labor Party Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem said during recent campaigning that they would not call an early parliamentary election if they lost the provincial ballot.

Roughly 12.8 million people are eligible to vote for 570 council seats in 12 provinces. The newly elected officials will select the new Senate on May 25.