Dutch PM loses majority but says no new elections

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 20, 2012 3:31 PM
Dutch PM loses majority but says no new elections

By Gilbert Kreijger

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte ruled out fresh elections on Tuesday after an anti-immigration lawmaker quit a party that supports his coalition, depriving him of a parliamentary majority and making it harder to cut the budget deficit.

Hero Brinkman, a member of the anti-immigration Freedom Party - that supports the Liberal-Christian Democrats ruling coalition - quit the party complaining that its leader, Geert Wilders, allowed too little democracy and dissent.

The loss of majority support will make it tougher for Rutte, of the conservative Liberal VVD party, to shrink the budget deficit in ongoing talks on spending cuts with Wilders and the main coalition partner, the Christian Democratic CDA.

Rutte will now have to bargain with Brinkman, who will continue as a one-man faction, or other smaller parties to pass legislation in the lower house where he now only has the guaranteed support of 75 of the 150 members.

"I don't see any reason for elections," Rutte told reporters after the Socialist and GreenLeft opposition parties called for a fresh vote.

Rutte said he had always been in charge of a minority government - as the two main coalition parties only have 52 seats - and Brinkman's departure from the Freedom Party would not change the situation.

Brinkman said he would continue to support the coalition from outside the Freedom Party, making an imminent government collapse unlikely.

But he stopped short of pledging unconditional backing for the new budget cuts.

"You should never support something in advance before you know the content, but the chance that I'd see insuperable problems is very small in my view," Brinkman told reporters.

The Netherlands, which has been in recession since July, needs a fresh round of austerity cuts - of up to 16 billion euros ($21 billion) - if it hopes to hit a deficit target of 3 percent of gross domestic product next year, as required by the European Commission.

A state think tank said on Tuesday the need for budget cuts was as urgent in the Netherlands as in Italy and Spain, peripheral EU countries that are usually considered less fiscally responsible than the Dutch.

Brinkman, a 47-year-former old policeman, said he had quit because Wilders allowed too little democracy inside the party, and disagreed with Wilders' launch of a website which asks the public to post complaints about foreign workers.

"He's not as powerful as Wilders, but he's more powerful outside than inside the party, and much more powerful now than he was yesterday," said political pollster Maurice de Hond.

"The chance that he lets the government fall is not big, in fact it is very small, but in the long term Brinkman could be a problem because he has the power to put topics on the agenda." ($1 = 0.7552 euros)

(Additional reporting by Roberta Cowan; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)