Major clashes in first election debate, including with voters
The first televised debate for the upcoming parliamentary election on Sunday evening was filled with clashes, with VVD leader and Prime Minster Mark Rutte in particular facing attacks from all sides. The six party leaders in the debate did not only clash with each other, but also faced onslaughts from members of the audience.
The RTL debate had party leaders Mark Rutte (VVD), Geert Wilders (PVV), Wopke Hoekstra (CDA), Sigrid Kaag (D66), Jesse Klaver (GroenLinks), and Lilian Marijnissen (SP) debate on a number of themes. Rutte in particular was a target, with CDA leader Hoekstra calling him "unbelievable", and GroenLinks leader Klaver calling him a liar multiple times.
One of the questions the party leaders had to answer, was who was going to cover the bill of the coronavirus crisis. All six said that the people with the highest incomes should contribute more towards recovering from this crisis. When Rutte said this, Hoekstra was flabbergasted, interrupting: "That is unbelievable. You fought the hardest for the worst plans. You wanted to keep the [student] loan system and do nothing about the flex contracts."
Rutte responded to Hoekstra that he does not understand the reproach: "We have done all that policy together over the past years." Hoekstra is Minister of Finance in the Rutte III cabinet.
Klaver attacked Rutte on the VVD's support for a new nuclear power station. "Mr. Rutte, you are not being honest." He added that both Rutte and Hoekstra is lying about the country's climate plans, "and that's unworthy of a Prime Minister and Finance Minister". "You claim that a nuclear power plant contributes to achieving the targets within ten years". According to Klaver, a new nuclear power plant cannot be the solution to the climate crisis, because it will take years before such a power plant is built. And immediate action is needed. "We only have ten years to tackle climate change."
Rutte called Klaver's argument nonsense. According to him, there are already many climate plans for the next ten years. For the period after that, more needs to be done to reduce CO2 emissions and a nuclear power plant is "indispensable" for that, he said.
The other party leaders also dismissed Rutte as unreliable. Kaag accused him of discriminating against people of color because he refuses to set a quota for the number of ministers from ethnic minorities. Wilders accused Rutte of discriminating against Dutch people, saying they have been waiting for years for a rental home "because Rutte is allowing so many asylum seekers in". Marijnissen accused Rutte of increasing inequality between rich and poor in the ten years that he's been Prime Minister.
With two weeks to go before the parliamentary election, Rutte's VVD is far ahead of the other parties in the polls. But the party leaders did not only clash with Rutte. Kaag and Wilders, for example, clashed hard over diversity. The party leaders debated diversity in politics, starting with the statement that 2.4 million Dutch people also having another country in their background, but that is not reflected in the cabinet. The proposition was therefore whether at least one in ten Ministers in the next cabinet should from a minority.
Wilders immediately claimed a leading role in this part of the debate by declaring that he "does not like such statements". "The first person of color that I want to defend is Zwarte Piet," he said - to the annoyance of Kaag, who accused Wilders of "having fun in hurting" others. "You deliberately conduct a discriminatory policy. We have to talk about racism and exclusion, and you participate hard in that," she said.
The party leaders were also confronted by people from the audience. Rutte spoke to one of the victims of the childcare allowance scandal, in which a fraud witch hunt by the Tax Authority left thousands of families in financial trouble for years. "Why do you think you can stay?" Kristie Rongen asked the Prime Minister. "You have let me down, and all for your own gain." She wanted to know why former minister Lodewijk Asscher had to step down as PvdA leader, but Rutte thinks he can continue.
Rutte started by saying "wow" and "very special that we are here like this". He said that he thought hard about his political future. "This is such a disgrace," he said. But "on balance", a lot of good has happened under his responsibility, he said. "What you have been through is terrible," he said to Rongen. But stressed that his cabinet has taken steps to prevent citizens from ending up in such trouble in the future.
Kaag was confronted by a farmer who opposes the D66 plan to halve the livestock numbers in the country. Hoekstra spoke with entrepreneurs whose restaurants have been closed for nearly a year. Wilders was confronted by a Dutch-Moroccan woman who had questions about his immigration and integration position. Klaver spoke to a student unhappy with the abolition of the basic study grant. Marijnissen spoke to a self-employed person who wanted an explanation on the SP's standpoint on freelancers.