Dutch Vote May Yield Grand Coalition in Bid for Stability

Having held more elections than perennially unsettled Italy in the past decade, the Netherlands tomorrow may vote to return the grand coalition that governed for eight years until 2002.

Liberal Prime Minister Mark Rutte may need to give Diederik Samsom’s Labor Party a second chance to govern with him in the fifth national ballot since 2002, to establish a stable majority. No government since 1998 has served a full four-year term. By contrast, Italy has had two national votes since 2002.

A so-called purple coalition of the Liberals, Labor and D66, which ruled the country between 1994 and 2002 would get 82 of the 150 parliamentary seats, according to a poll by TNS NIPO published today. The Liberals gained 35 seats in the survey, one seat more than Labor. The survey of 1,917 people had a margin of error of two to three seats.

“A coalition of Liberals, Labor and one or two other parties is certainly possible, but the most important question is, do parties want this?” Philip van Praag, an associate professor of political science at the University of Amsterdam, said Sept. 6. “Within the Liberal Party there’s hefty resistance against such a coalition.”

Such a government would pair parties that have clashed on both domestic and European policies. Rutte, an ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel as she staves off calls to provide more aid to cash-strapped southern European countries, has drawn criticism from some opposition parties for helping out Greece while cutting back pensions and health-care spending.

Greek Lifeline

Samsom is willing to extend Greece’s financial lifeline while Rutte won’t back a third aid package.

Both politicians have said any coalition involving the two parties won’t be easy. Governing with the Liberals, or VVD, would be “tricky” while the partnering with the Socialists would feel like a “warm bath,” Samsom said at a debate in The Hague on Sept. 3.

Rutte yesterday said a purple coalition is “practically impossible” as it lacks an upper-house majority. His favored coalition partner, the Christian Democrats, or CDA, has dropped in the polls to 12 seats. The Socialists would get 21.

“Now that the economy overtook immigration as the main topic, a government like that comes in sight,” said Andre Krouwel, an associate professor of political science at VU University in Amsterdam. “The formation of a new government might be less time-consuming than some fear.”

Slumping Economy

The Dutch economy may shrink this year, according to the median of 11 economist forecasts gathered by Bloomberg. An unemployment rate of 6.5 percent, the highest in seven years, is still the second-lowest in the euro area after Austria.

The Netherlands today sold 2 billion euros ($2.6 billion) of 10-year bonds at the lowest yield in at least five years, signaling investor confidence in the country’s budget discipline.

“Politicians now just don’t dare to talk about the incredibly complicated and fragmented parliament we’ll have after the elections,” said Kees Aarts, a professor of political science at the University of Twente.

Coalition talks after 2010 elections lasted 127 days. Rutte beat Labor by one seat in that vote and held coalition talks with Labor, D66 and GreenLeft. Those negotiations failed after which Rutte opted for a minority Cabinet supported by anti- immigration leader Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party in parliament.

Poll Ratings

The TNS NIPO poll showed Wilders’ party dropping to 17 seats from 24 in the last parliament.

Early elections were called after Rutte’s Cabinet resigned on April 23, when Wilders withdrew his backing for spending cuts and tax increases. Rutte and three opposition parties within days struck an austerity deal to ensure that next year’s budget deficit is reduced to meet a limit of 3 percent of gross domestic product set by the European Union, down from 3.6 percent forecast by government agency CPB for this year.

The deficit discipline has helped make the country of almost 17 million people one of four in the euro area that has kept its top credit rating.

Rutte obtained a history degree at the Leiden University in 1992, was chairman of the youth department of the VVD and worked for 10 years at Unilever in different capacities before he became Deputy Minister of Social Affairs in 2002. That Cabinet, led by Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, fell within months.

‘Excellent Teacher’

He teaches a class once a week at the Varias college of the Johan de Witt Scholengroep in The Hague. He’s an “excellent teacher” and gives civics lessons to children of pre-vocational secondary education, school director Hans Huizer said Sept. 5. He started the volunteer work in 2008 and has continued to do so since he became prime minister.

Rutte hasn’t sought Wilders for a new government. “You didn’t take responsibility when it was necessary and these difficult times call for leadership,” Rutte told the Freedom Party leader in various debates.

A trained pianist who considered studying classical music, Rutte is unmarried and goes on an annual skiing trip with friends. He told an audience in Rotterdam in November at a Unilever event that he also regularly travels to New York City with a friend.

“He is a clear example of a power broker. He is one- dimensional, he devoted his whole life to politics, and made it,” Krouwel said. “At some point voters may turn against him for shifting principles,” Krouwel added.

To contact the reporters on this story: Fred Pals in Amsterdam at fpals@bloomberg.net; Jurjen van de Pol in Amsterdam at jvandepol@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Hertling at jhertling@bloomberg.net

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