Boyish Mark Rutte's Liberal Party ties for top election spot
Dutch lawmaker Mark Rutte, whose centre-right VVD Liberal Party tied with Labour for top spot in polls Wednesday, long battled an image of rogue boyishness as he groomed himself for the role of statesman.
"I am a serious guy," the 43-year-old bachelor told a newspaper interviewer in the runup to the elections, asked whether his somewhat flippant image made him unsuitable for the post of prime minister.
"The Netherlands can be better. I take that very seriously. But there has to be room for a lighter moment from time to time, a joke. I won't change that."
Rutte, a former human resource manager at Anglo-Dutch food and cosmetics giant Unilever, has led the VVD (Party for Freedom and Democracy) since June 2006.
He lives alone, describes himself as a hard worker and has commended former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher's handling of the economic recession in the early 1980s.
Like Britain's "Iron Lady", Rutte supports big public spending cuts, and says leading the Netherlands out of Europe's current economic downturn is his biggest political ambition.
"He is relaxed in his social relations, not at all formal, but he is firm and rigorous in dealing with the issues" of politics, VVD parliamentary chairman Uri Rosenthal told AFP about Rutte.
"He is driven by ideals," added Lilianne Ploumen, chairwoman of the PvdA opposition party. "He is a young but clever politician."
Rutte was born on February 14, 1967 in an upper-class suburb of The Hague, where he grew up as the youngest of seven children. He dreamed as a youngster of becoming a pianist.
Rutte's father had married his first wife's sister after she died in a Japanese internment camp in Indonesia during World War II.
"He has a complicated family history, but his family is very important to him, especially his mother," said Rosenthal.
Rutte first became involved in politics while studying at the University of Leiden, where he obtained a degree in Dutch history in 1992. During this period, he became the national president of the liberal youth movement JOVD, which later became the VVD's youth wing.
He joined Unilever in 1992, became personnel manager five years later, and worked for the company for 10 years during which time he was also a member of the VVD executive committee.
Deputy minister for social affairs from 2002 to 2004 and then of education until 2006, Rutte is loyal to the principles of liberalism and dreams of an "ownership economy" in the style of Thatcher.
To this end, he has promised to cut income taxes and to maintain existing tax benefits for home owners -- touchy topics for the Dutch at a time of growing European economic uncertainty.
"In the Netherlands, the broadest shoulders carry the heaviest burden. Those who earn more, pay more tax. That is how it should be," Rutte said in a recent interview.
"This campaign is not about Mark Rutte, but about how the Netherlands can be given a boost," he said.
© 2010 AFP