The Hague (AFP) – Three days before key Dutch elections campaigning was reaching fever pitch Sunday with the far-right poised to make huge gains, and the poll overshadowed by a bitter diplomatic row with Turkey.
As politicians criss-crossed the country ahead of Wednesday’s vote, Turkish and Dutch leaders traded accusations and ties sank to new lows after The Netherlands banned Turkish ministers from a pro-Ankara rally in Rotterdam.
The stakes are high, with Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s Liberals (VVD) predicted to return as the largest party in the 150-seat parliament scooping up between 23 to 27 seats, according to the latest aggregated polls. That is well down from 40 VVD MPs in the outgoing lower chamber.
Rutte, who is bidding for a third term, is facing a strong challenge from far-right anti-Islam MP Geert Wilders and his Freedom Party (PVV).
“I am not personally afraid, (but) I think it is not a good outcome to the election,” he added.
Tweeting a picture of a woman in headscarf taking a selfie amid a sea of Turkish flags, he wrote: “Decades of open borders, mass immigration, no integration, and double nationality and this is the result.”
– ‘Cultural divide’ –
The election is being closely watched as a bellwether of the rise of populist and far-right parties ahead of other national votes in Europe later this year.
If he emerges as one of the largest parties in parliament he may be a difficult voice to ignore.
The row with Turkey, “emphasises this cultural divide, the cultural issues in the elections,” said analyst Monika Sie Dhian Ho, director of the Clingendael Institute think-tank.
“It forces the more established parties to also run a campaign in this cultural dimension, rather than in the traditional left-right dimension,” she told AFP.
Wednesday’s results will likely trigger some tough coalition talks to govern one of the largest countries in the eurozone and a founding pillar of the European Union.
– Rise of the greens –
Polls also suggest the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) and the progressive pro-democracy party D66 — both long-established parties — are having a late surge and may take between 18 and 20 seats each.
“My weapons are hope and optimism,” the 30-year-old Klaver told AFP Saturday after campaigning in southern Eindhoven.
“I think there should be an alternative to Mr Rutte, and it should be a progressive alternative,” he told AFP.