After the scandal resulting in the resignation of Dutch foreign minister who lied about meeting Putin, Dutch PM successfully comes out of no-confidence vote

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte leads a four-party coalition government, which has a precarious parliamentary majority of just one seat.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte leads a four-party coalition government, which has a precarious parliamentary majority of just one seat. ( Bart Maat / AFP )

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte overwhelmingly survived a late-night vote of no-confidence Tuesday just hours after his foreign minister quit, admitting he had lied about a key meeting.

Dutch Foreign Minister Halbe Zijlstra resigned after admitting that he had lied about attending a meeting in 2006 at which he said Russian President Vladimir Putin had outlined a strategy for building a greater Russia.

Lawmakers grilled Rutte, who had previously defended Zijlstra despite having known since late January that he had not actually met Putin. They asked repeatedly why Rutte had failed to inform parliament during the three weeks before the affair went public.

Rutte acknowledged he had underestimated the impact the affair would have.

"A lie is a sin, but not a mortal sin," he said, adding that Zijlstra's remarks were accurate.

"If you look at what Russia has done in the past 10-15 years, the policy that they have followed, you must say that it's aimed at expansion," Rutte said, citing Moscow's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region and its support for the separatists battling Kiev's forces in eastern Ukraine.

Vote of no-confidence against Dutch PM

The rare motion was brought by Rutte's arch-foe, far-right MP Geert Wilders, who slammed the mounting scandal over foreign minister Halbe Zijlstra as "unacceptable".

Rutte's four-party coalition has only a one-seat majority in the 150-seat lower house, but he sailed through the vote with 101 MPs voting against the motion, and only 43 in favour.

The confidence vote came after Rutte faced a barrage of questions from Dutch MPs about why he had not informed parliament sooner about Zijlstra's false claims to have attended a 2006 meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"It was an error of judgement on my part," Rutte said, asked why he had kept Zijlstra's deception secret after being told about it on January 29.

"I didn't think this affair would have such a political fallout. I underestimated the impact of this lie."

Rutte is now in his third term as prime minister, after his Liberal VVD party won March 2017 elections, but without enough support to rule alone.

Tortuous, record-breaking talks finally cobbled together a government deal between the VVD, the progressive Democracy D66 and two Christian parties.

Rutte's coalition partners voted against the no-confidence motion as well as the Labour party, Rutte's coalition ally in his previous government.

However, the 14 MPs from the Socialist Party were among some of the smaller parties which backed Wilders and his Freedom Party (PVV), the largest opposition group in the house with 20 MPs.

Zijlstra had only been in post for four months, and his admission that he had not attended the 2006 meeting in Putin's dacha, as he had long claimed, has proved the first major crisis to hit the new coalition.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies