Rutte’s Dutch Coalition Falls Two Months Before Election

(Bloomberg) -- Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said his government will resign after he failed to win the backing of coalition allies in a spat over benefits, signaling the start of political hostilities before an election in two months time.

Rutte will stay on in a caretaker capacity until the vote on March 17 and said the coalition’s collapse wouldn’t constrain efforts to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.

“People can expect that we will do what is necessary in the national interest,” he said at a briefing in The Hague. “The battle against corona will continue.”

Rutte said he will be heading directly to a meeting with King Willem-Alexander on Friday afternoon to formally submit a resignation on behalf of his administration.

Relations between Rutte and his allies were roiled by a report on issues in the Dutch childcare benefits system that was critical of the prime minister and other politicians including finance minister and Christian Democrat Party leader Wopke Hoekstra. A parliament committee ruled that thousands of parents who had applied for childcare payments during Rutte’s tenure were falsely accused of making fraudulent claims.

The issue was brought to a head by the prospect of a confidence vote next week. The main question now is what will happen in the election scheduled for March.

Polls have shown Rutte’s People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy winning 43 seats in the 150-seat lower house compared with their current 32, according to I&O Research this week.

Rutte has enjoyed strong public support throughout the coronavirus pandemic, making a fourth term for the 53-year-old liberal the most likely outcome. Rutte will remain as caretaker until a new government is formed after the election.

(Updates with comments from Rutte press conference in third paragraph)