Liberal leader set for historic success in Dutch election
Dutch centre-right leader Mark Rutte hit the campaign trail Tuesday pressing his case for radically reduced public spending on the eve of an election expected to make him the premier from his party in a century.
Rutte embarked on a full day of radio interviews, a press conference and a televised debate with other party leaders ahead of the first election in a eurozone country since the Greek financial crash.
Pollsters expect the VVD Liberal party to get 36 seats out of 150 in the Dutch lower house, putting Rutte in line to become the first Liberal prime minister since Pieter Cort van der Linden from 1913 to 1918.
With the succession debate all but settled, much of the media focus Tuesday was on possible coalition formations as it remained clear that no two parties combined would gain enough votes for a 75-seat majority required to pass laws. The VVD currently has 21 MPs.
Latest polls put the PvdA Labour party second in the race with 30 seats (down from 33), the Christian Democratic CDA of outgoing premier Jan Peter Balkenende third with 25 (down from 41) and the Party for Freedom (PVV) of anti-Islam MP Geert Wilders fourth with 18 -- double its current nine.
Rutte's party has excluded an alliance with the far-right party, the popular Algemeen Dagblad newspaper said, citing party insiders as speculation continued about a possible government role for Wilders' party.
The leftist Volkskrant daily, for its part, published a "handbook for the strategic voter", advising how to affect coalition outcomes.
The Dutch political system traditionally gives no party an outright majority as issue-driven voters easily shift allegiances.
The last centre-left coalition between the Christian Democrats, Labour and the smaller Christian Union collapsed in February in a spat over military assistance to Afghanistan -- causing elections to be brought forward by one year.
The PVV had led in opinion polls just a few months ago, but its main campaign issue, to stop the "Islamisation of the Netherlands", has been eclipsed by budget concerns amid Europe's economic downturn.
Parties ran their campaigns on issues such as public spending, taxes and social benefits at a time the Netherlands saw its deficit and unemployment mount.
The VVD plans to cut government spending by about 45 billion euros (54 billion dollars) over the next four years and by 20 billion euros a year as from 2015.
It wants to eradicate the public deficit, reduce the size of the government and parliament, lower income taxes and cap civil servants' pay rises.
If it wins, the VVD will have to choose between the CDA as its main partner partner on the right or the PvdA on the left.
Then it will weigh between the PVV and other smaller parties like the green GroenLinks (10 projected seats), the Socialist Party (12 seats), the centrist D66 (nine seats) and the Christian Union (6 seats).
Issues on the negotiating table will include raising the retirement age, scrapping tax benefits on mortgage bonds, and the PVV's proposals to stop Muslim immigration and mosque building.
Rutte has said he would like to put together a new cabinet by July 1 to start preparations for the national budget due in September.
Cabinet formation traditionally takes about two months after a Dutch election.
© 2010 AFP