Dutch monarch to decide on early elections

Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands must decide on Monday whether to accept the resignation of Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende after his coalition collapsed over the presence of Dutch troops in Afghanistan.

With a new election now looming, Dutch media on Sunday strongly criticised the three parties in the coalition for failing to reach an agreement on the country’s 1 950 troops in Nato’s international mission in Afghanistan.

Beatrix will hold talks with Balkenende, head of the Christian Democratic party, and the leaders of the Labour party and the smaller Christian Union, as well as the presidents of the two chambers of Parliament.

“We will know Monday if the government’s resignation is accepted,” said government press service spokesperson Lara den Bosch. “They will also certainly talk about the future,” she added.

“Elections are likely to be held before the summer, by June at the latest,” home affairs spokesperson Vincent van Steen told Agence France-Presse. Elections had been scheduled for March next year.

Balkenende tendered the resignations of the 12 Labour ministers and deputy ministers to Beatrix on Saturday, hours after the coalition fell apart. These were accepted.

The queen, who was on holiday in Austria, did not say whether she would accept the resignations of the 12 Christian Democrat cabinet members and three from the smaller Christian Union.

Troop withdrawal
On Saturday Balkenende said on Dutch state television that he expected the withdrawal from Afghanistan to begin in August.

“It is for parliament to say what it thinks on the subject,” he said, recalling that parliament was opposed to prolonging the Dutch military presence in Afghanistan.

The governing coalition failed after several days of talks to agree a Nato request to extend the Dutch military mission in Afghanistan by a year.

Labour withdrew from the government after insisting that the military mission in Afghanistan must end this year as planned.

Labour leader Wouter Bos, who is finance minister as well as vice-premier, said ‘no good reason” for an extension of the mission has been forthcoming in the coalition talks and that he wanted new elections.

Nato secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen asked the Netherlands earlier this month to take on a new training role and remain in Afghanistan until August 2011.

The request had required unanimous cabinet approval.

Around 1 950 Dutch troops are in Afghanistan’s Uruzgan province, where opium production is high and the Taliban very active, under the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

The Dutch mission, which started in 2006, is often hailed as an example for its developmental focus. Twenty-one Dutch soldiers have died in Afghanistan and the mission has already been extended by two years.

The NRC Handelsblad economic daily said it was “a rupture that has only losers”.

It said that Labour leader Bos was “weakened” and Balkenende, who was re-elected leader of his party on Saturday, was “vulnerable”. It highlighted that this was the fourth Balkenende cabinet to fail in eight years, after the first two cabinets collapsed, the third served only as a transitional government until November 2006 elections and the fourth one ended Saturday.

Polls are predicting Balkenende’s conservatives and Labour would lose about seven seats and 13 seats respectively in the 150-seat assembly after any new election.

The Christian Democrats currently have 41 seats and Labour 33 in parliament.

According to an opinion poll released on Sunday, 21% of Dutch people would prefer Bos becomes head of the next government with 16% favouring Balkenende. — AFP

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