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Bike-loving Rutte rides to record term as Dutch PM

By AFP - Aug 02,2022 - Last updated at Aug 02,2022

THE HAGUE — Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte set a new record for time in the saddle on Tuesday, becoming The Netherlands' longest-serving leader with 4,311 days in power.

Rutte, who is famed for riding his trusty bike to work, surpassed the previous mark set by Ruud Lubbers who was prime minister from 1982 to 1994.

The leader of the centre-right VVD Party — dubbed "Teflon Mark" because of the number of scandals that have failed to stick to him — took office in October 2010.

"I feel like I'm nearly halfway through," Rutte, 55, joked during a press conference last month when he was asked about the 11-year-and-nine-month milestone.

"It's the best job in the world."

The lanky leader was keeping a low profile on Tuesday as he passed Lubbers' previous record, making no official comment.

Rutte is also the second longest-serving European Union leader behind Hungary's Viktor Orban — with whom he has repeatedly clashed on social and economic issues.

Last month Rutte said he was still motivated to carry on, adding that "the number of puzzles now on the desk is quite large", including inflation and the war in Ukraine.

But an opinion poll carried out for the Dutch public broadcaster recently said that eight out of 10 people believed he had "passed his sell-by date".

At home, Rutte has cultivated an image as a low-key leader who is single, cycles to meetings with foreign leaders, and until recently used an old Nokia mobile phone.

His backroom political skills have seen him navigate his way to the top of four successive coalition governments — but he has had several close escapes.

His previous government was forced to resign en masse in 2021 over a child benefits scandal, while he narrowly survived a no confidence vote later that year.

Rutte's main challenge now comes from angry protests by road-blocking farmers who oppose government climate plans that could force some farm closures.

In Europe, he has also talked up his reputation as a leader of a group of frugal, northern nations that want to limit public spending.

That earned him the nickname "Mr No" for his opposition to bailout plans for southern states hit hard by the COVID pandemic.

Rutte's predecessor as longest-serving Dutch PM, Lubbers, had a similarly sober and pragmatic style, Dutch commentators said.

Lubbers went on to become the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and died in 2018 aged 78.

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