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After Dutch government's collapse, voters will choose a new parliament

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

One of Europe's longest-serving prime ministers, the Netherlands' Mark Rutte, is stepping down, clearing the way for new elections in the country in November. NPR's Rob Schmitz reports from The Hague that voters will have plenty of parties to choose from.

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: In his 13 years as the Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte earned the overused nickname Teflon Mark for his ability to slip through one crisis after another. But last month, after squabbling amongst the four parties that make up Rutte's coalition government over Dutch asylum policy, Rutte threw in the political towel.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER MARK RUTTE: (Through interpreter) It's no secret that the coalition partners have very different views on migration policy. And today, unfortunately, we have to conclude that those differences are irreconcilable. That's why I will immediately offer the resignation of the entire cabinet to the King in writing.

SCHMITZ: Rutte will stay on as caretaker prime minister until elections November 22. And while migration ultimately triggered Rutte's resignation, Dutch political journalist Rik Rutten says the problems go deeper.

RIK RUTTEN: You could already see that things were headed this way over a year ago, when Rutte had to form this government. And it was right around that time that it became clear that most parties in parliament were pretty much done dealing with him.

SCHMITZ: Rutten says, over the past 13 years under Rutte as prime minister, the Dutch parliament had developed what he called Rutte fatigue.

RUTTEN: He's seen as this great politician, very skilled in making agreements, making coalitions with everyone and everything. But of course, when you've been able to do that for quite a while, you're going to make some enemies as well.

SCHMITZ: Rutten says Mark Rutte gained a reputation as a leader who was open to governing with any political parties, spreading himself thin, and he always seemed to escape blame when his governments collapsed. But political scientist Wouter van der Brug of the University of Amsterdam says Rutte was merely a product of the splintered Dutch electorate.

WOUTER VAN DER BRUG: In a country like the Netherlands, with so many different parties that all have a minority, you always have to build coalitions. You need leaders who are able to wheel and deal and compromise.

SCHMITZ: In the latest poll, the party with the most support, a coalition of Greens and social Democrats, was ahead with just 18% of Dutch voter support. The number of seats in the Dutch parliament is determined by each party's share of the national vote. Van der Brug says that means the Netherlands has become one of Europe's most individualized societies when it comes to politics.

VAN DER BRUG: People don't identify with a single party, which means that they can easily switch between parties, especially if different parties are ideologically very similar. They easily switch on the base of one single issue.

SCHMITZ: A single issue like climate change.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRACTOR HORN BLARING)

SCHMITZ: Dutch farmers have shut down highways with their tractors in recent years in protests aimed at the government's proposed ban on nitrogen emissions - a plan that could force farmers to reduce herds, use less fertilizer and eventually shut down their farms. A political party, the Farmer Citizen Movement, was born. And in a Senate election in March, it won 16 of the Netherlands' 75 Senate seats - more than any other political party - and it's currently polling third going into the fall election campaign season.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOUNTAIN SPLASHING)

SCHMITZ: Outside the Dutch parliament in The Hague, National Library employee Hans Jansen eats lunch next to a fountain. He says he doesn't think the many single-issue parties in the Netherlands are helping improve things. They're merely reflecting the polarization among voters and gaining power from it.

HANS JANSEN: That's not good for society if there's too much left and too much right. Social media is not helping in that respect, I think. So there's a lot of clashing everywhere. A lot of people have a kort lontje, as we call it - a short fuse. That's the society we seem to be in.

SCHMITZ: Jansen voted for one of the coalition partners in Mark Rutte's failed government, but he agrees it's time for Rutte to go. There's been talk that Rutte is interested in heading NATO or even the European Union, but he's dispelled these rumors. Jansen says whoever replaces Rutte after the November elections will continue to face big challenges in uniting Dutch voters.

Rob Schmitz, NPR News, The Hague. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.