Coronavirus solidarity shields Dutch Premier Rutte from scandal

Mark Rutte has generally received popular approval for his response to the pandemic. PHOTO: AFP

THE HAGUE (BLOOMBERG) - Mr Mark Rutte's government collapsed earlier this month amid scandal, but the caretaker Dutch Prime Minister, buoyed by his administration's Covid-19 response, is poised to retake the premiership after a March ballot.

A new poll on Wednesday (Jan 27) showed that Mr Rutte's People's Party for Freedom and Democracy is expected to win 42 seats in the 150-seat Lower House of Parliament on March 17, according to polling firm I&O Research.

The second-most popular party in the poll, Mr Geert Wilders' Party for Freedom, would get 19 seats.

Like the rest of Europe, the Netherlands is struggling to cope with the health crisis, recording more than 950,000 Covid-19 cases and 13,686 deaths.

And despite widespread riots following a new curfew aimed at curbing the pandemic, Mr Rutte has generally received popular approval for his response to the pandemic.

"The corona crisis acts as a protective layer," Mr Peter Kanne, a senior adviser at I&O Research, said in an interview.

He added that during periods of stress, people tend to rally around the flag, and many in the Netherlands view Mr Rutte as the best person to deal with the situation.

'Sixth sense'

Mr Rutte's coalition fell apart earlier this month over a scandal in which thousands of parents who had applied for childcare payments were falsely accused of making fraudulent claims.

Mr Rutte will stay on in a caretaker capacity until the vote and said the coalition's collapse wouldn't constrain efforts to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.

"Without the crisis, the childcare subsidies scandal would have hurt more," said Mr Kanne, adding that Mr Rutte always finds a way to manage difficult situations.

"He has a sixth sense for how he has to behave in crucial moments and when to alter course."

It's unlikely that Mr Rutte would form a government with the nationalist, anti-immigrant Party for Freedom, meaning it could take four or five parties and months of negotiations to form a governing coalition.

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