Prime Minister Mark Rutte signs Royal Decrees at Noordeinde Palace in The Hague, on Monday. AFP
Dutch King Willem-Alexander is swearing in a new ruling coalition Monday, led for the fourth time by Mark Rutte, amid a nationwide coronavirus lockdown and policy challenges ranging from climate change to housing shortages to the future of agriculture.
Rutte's fourth government was sworn in on Monday, a record 299 days after the last election and a year after his previous administration was forced to resign, with the coronavirus crisis looming over a big spending push.
The ceremony at the Noordeinde Palace in The Hague comes following a record-breaking coalition formation process following a general election on March 17 last year that laid bare deep divisions in the splintered Dutch political landscape.
The new coalition has promised generous spending on sustainable energy, housing, childcare and education, but will first have to deal with the health crisis as the Omicron variant has pushed coronavirus infections to record levels.
Rutte, 54, has already led three coalitions and is now set to become the Netherlands’ longest serving prime minister despite only narrowly surviving a no-confidence motion in parliament in April.
King Willem-Alexander (left) and PM Mark Rutte sign the Royal Decrees at Noordeinde Palace. AFP
The government will need to decide by Friday if a broad lockdown that has closed most public places since mid-December can be eased despite the wave of new coronavirus cases.
Although the coalition consists of the same four parties that have been in charge since 2017, it took almost 10 months to bring them back together after the inconclusive election on March 17, 2020, increased parties' reluctance to compromise.
The swearing in of the new government also comes almost a year to the day since Rutte and his entire Cabinet resigned to accept political responsibility for a scandal involving the nation's tax office wrongly labeling as fraudsters thousands of parents who claimed childcare benefits.
Even so, Rutte will lead a coalition made up of the same four parties that quit to end his third term. His fourth administration is made up of Rutte's conservative People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, together with the centrist, pro-European D66, the center-right Christian Democratic Appeal and centrist Christian Union. Together, they command a narrow majority in the 150-seat lower house of Dutch parliament, but are in the minority in the upper house.
For the first time in Dutch political history, half of the senior Cabinet ministers are women. In a sign of the pandemic times, one of them, D66 leader Sigrid Kaag, took part in the swearing in via a video link as she is isolating after testing positive for COVID-19.
"From now on we stop shaking hands," he said during a Monday evening news conference. "You can foot-tap or elbow-bump, or whatever you can come up with. ..but from today on we are going to stop shaking hands."
A new government will also have to contend with a COVID-19 surge and the fallout of the huge August explosion at Beirut port that killed nearly 200 people and caused billions of dollars of damage.
‘The Discomfort of Evening,’ about a devout Christian family in rural Netherlands, is a ‘tender and visceral evocation of the strangeness of a childhood caught between shame and salvation.’
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