On Thursday, Dutch opposition parties presented a No-Cancel motion in caretaker Prime Minister Mark Rutte and accused him of lying about what he had talked about privately during talks to form a cabinet, presenting the biggest challenge to his leadership in a decade.
Rutte was the clear winner of the 17 March parliamentary elections that were seen as a referendum on his handling of the coronavirus pandemic crisis. Losing a vote of confidence would cripple his ability to form a new government.
It was not clear whether the centrist parties in Rutte's new coalition, who are likely to participate in any previous coalition, would continue to support him. A debate over the situation appeared likely to last until the early hours of Friday.
The crisis arose on Thursday after Rutte acknowledged having discussed privately what job should go to a prominent member of parliament who had been critical of his previous Cabinet. Rutte had previously said he did not do so; the only thing I can do here is say from the bottom of my heart, my toes, say what went wrong, what went well, that I never lied, Rutte said in the parliament on Thursday.
Rutte, a 54-year-old conservative who has been in office for more than 10 years, pointed to his record and said that he hoped to continue leading the country.
Talks on forming a new government were suddenly put on hold on March 25 when one of the chief negotiators unwittingly revealed a sensitive document to a news photographer as she rushed out of parliament after learning that she had tested positive for COVID- 19.
The document showed that negotiators were discussing a position elsewhere for Christian MP Pieter Omtzigt, a prominent critic of the previous Cabinet of British Prime Minister, though Omtzigt's popular Democrats were part of the ruling coalition.
The cryptic comment has been interpreted as implying outside parliament or outside the Netherlands. On 25 March, Rutte told reporters he had not been the one to mention Omtzigt's position.
LIED TO THE WHOLE COUNTRY' On Thursday, Omtzig told sceptical lawmakers that he had forgotten a Cabinet post for Rutte in a private conversation.
He said he had not hinted at a position elsewhere during the talks about the Cabinet, which he said meant technically he had not said anything untrue.
Rutte, who filed the No-confidence Motion, said opposition lawmaker Geert Wilders had lied to the whole country. Seek a job elsewhere yourself, Wilders said; we can not go further with this PM.
Omtzigt, who was sworn in as a member of parliament on Wednesday, said the implication that he should be removed was an affront to the Dutch voter. He demanded full transparency about how his name came to be on the document. Rutte's conservative VVD party won the national elections last month convincingly, even though his government resigned in January over a scandal in which thousands of families were wrongfully accused of child care benefit fraud for years, often on the basis of ethnicity.
Omtzigt had asked questions about the matter until it became fully public.
On Thursday, Rutte appealed to his record in his defence.
I led the country through an economic crisis, an immigration crisis and a very serious health crisis, a pandemic, and I am looking very much forward to working on the recovery of this country, he said.
The Omtzigt affair was not the first time that Rutte has accused a false memory of making public statements about fake comments.
He did not have an active memory of crucial details and survived a string of heated debates in the recent years, on issues ranging from Iraqi civilians killed in Dutch bombardments to a corporate lobby to scrap the dividend tax in the country.