Dutch prime minister faces problems in Parliament's upper house after electoral losses



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THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte will have to hunt for new allies in the Senate after voters in provincial elections, angry at years of austerity, weakened his ruling coalition's tenuous grip on Parliament's upper house.

"We will have to work hard to find support" in the Senate, Rutte said in a televised debate early Thursday.

Aldermen elected Wednesday will vote in May for a new 75-seat Senate. If, as expected, they vote along party lines, Rutte's Liberal Party is forecast to take just 13 seats and junior coalition party Labor will win just eight.

According to results compiled Thursday by Dutch media, the Liberals will remain the biggest party in the Senate but an ad hoc five-party bloc that Rutte relies on to pass legislation and budgets will no longer command a majority.

"The (political) landscape is fragmented but I am convinced we have to keep this country governable," Rutte said. "I'm going to work hard for that."

The ruling Liberal and Labor parties appear to have been punished by voters for years of austerity measures aimed at getting the Dutch economy back on track after the financial crisis. Those moves are now bearing fruit, with the economy showing strong signs of recovery, but Labor leader Diederik Samsom conceded that many voters are not yet feeling the positive effects.

Both parties vowed to continue their coalition until the general election scheduled for March 2017.

"We knew we would have to take unpopular measures," Samsom said. "That is a responsibility you take for four years and we will continue to take it."

Rutte and Samsom are keen to reform the Dutch taxation system to reduce costs for employers of hiring staff, a move they hope will cut unemployment, currently running at just over 7 percent.

The Freedom Party of anti-Islam lawmaker Geert Wilders was forecast to lose one of his 10 Senate seats.

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