Dutch elections: Netherlands PM Mark Rutte wins 4th term in party’s major victory

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March 18 (UPI) — Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has won re-election to a fourth term and his ruling party won about three dozen seats in this week’s vote.

According to preliminary results, Rutte’s People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) won a resounding victory with close to 80% of the votes counted by early Thursday.

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The biggest winner is Rutte’s governing coalition partner, the Democrats 66 Party, which picked up almost 30 seats in Dutch Parliament. It’s the party’s best showing in history.

Dutch voters began casting their ballots on Monday and the polls closed on Wednesday night.

If the results hold, Rutte’s party will be about a dozen seats shy of reaching the threshold needed for a governing majority, meaning he will need to form a coalition government.

“The program for the months ahead is huge,” Rutte said in a report by Dutch News. “We need to lead the Netherlands through the current crisis with the present cabinet and make a fresh start as a country.

We want to make sure that the Netherlands is again one of the best-performing countries in the world. There is a very, very, very large amount of work to do.”

Democrats 66 leader Sigrid Kaag, who was Rutte’s foreign minister, said the election was a huge statement for her party.

“I have always believed … that Dutch people are not extremists, but moderate,” Kaag said in the Dutch News report. “Our message has resonated with them all. They are busy making their lives a bit better, with friends, neighbors and family.”

The election proved disappointing for the Netherlands’ far-right Freedom Party and the Christian Democrats. The parties picked up a little more than a dozen seats each.

Voters handed Rutte another victory despite complaints about a disjointed response to the coronavirus pandemic and a childcare benefits scandal that led to several members of his cabinet resigning earlier this year.