The puzzle of forming a Dutch govt

Maude BRULARD
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte (background 4thR) and Dutch PVV leader Geert Wilders (C) pose with other party leaders before a meeting with Chairman of the Senate Khadija Arib (4thL) in The Hague, on March 16, 2017, a day after general elections

The long and complex process of forming a new coalition government started Thursday after Dutch general elections in which Liberal party Prime Minister Mark Rutte beat his main rival, far-right MP Geert Wilders.

The coalition leader needs a majority of 76 seats in the 150-seat lower house of parliament and must get the ruling coalition to agree on policies to be carried out.

Here are the steps in a complex puzzle that will eventually lead to a new Dutch government:

- 'Scout' to test waters -

The first step is to appoint a "scout" or coalition mediator to test the waters with various party leaders and look at coalition possibilities. Veteran Dutch MP and outgoing Health Minister Edith Schippers was appointed to the task on Thursday.

She is to report her findings to the new parliament which will debate the issue for the first time late next week.

- 'Informer' firm up coalition -

Parliament will then appoint a so-called informer to firm up coalition plans, including the investigation of specific combinations. Until 2012, this role was set aside for the Dutch monarch.

Negotiations are complex and political horse-trading the order of the day, as parties vie to give their policies prominence within the ruling coalition.

A draft agreement is presented to party members in the coalition which then has to approve the plan, serving as a working guide for the next government.

Should an informer fail to get the plan approved, another is appointed until a coalition is agreed upon.

- Actual formation -

Once the draft plan is published, the government can then be put together, usually by the incoming prime minister. This official also has the task of steering the dishing out of cabinet portfolio posts. Again, negotiations may fail at this stage.

- Oath of office -

Once the government is formed ministers and deputy ministers swear an oath of loyalty to Dutch King Willem-Alexander. Until then, the government is run by the outgoing cabinet, except for confidential matters.

In 2012 it took Prime Minister Mark Rutte 54 days to put together a government -- a relatively short time. The longest it took was 208 days in 1977.

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