Rutte Says Netherlands Will Be Bulwark Against Populism’s Spread

  • The Dutch will vote in a national election on March 15
  • Prime Minister Rutte tied in latest poll with Geert Wilders

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte called on voters to reject Geert Wilders’s Freedom Party at the country’s election in less than two weeks and to put a halt to the spread of populism that’s taken hold in several western democracies.

“The Netherlands now has the chance, on March 15, to stop the dominoes that keep falling in the U.K. and in the U.S., and that might fall in Germany, France and Italy,” Rutte said in an interview on Thursday on the news program BNR Nieuwsradio. “We will stop this new trend.”

To read about the gains made by the Dutch Party for Animals, click here

Rutte’s Liberals and Wilders’s anti-Islam, anti-European Union Freedom Party are tied in the polls as nationalist movements, such as Marine Le Pen’s National Front and the Alternative for Germany, make waves across Europe. Since the mainstream Dutch parties have rejected working with Wilders, who was convicted last year of making discriminatory comments toward immigrants, it’s unlikely the Freedom Party will become part of a governing coalition after the election.

Wilders has created a “poisonous atmosphere,” Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the country’s finance minister and a member of the Labor Party, said in an interview with BNR Nieuwsradio. He’s made “an atmosphere in which an entire population is characterized as a problem, an atmosphere where freedom of religion is taken away from a segment of the population,” Dijsselbloem said.

A fracturing of support for Dutch political parties could require a coalition of as many as six separate groups to reach a 76-seat majority in the 150-person lower house of parliament. That means even if the Freedom Party walks away with the most seats, it could be prevented from having a governing role.

Brexit, Trump Chaos

Wilders’s Freedom Party and Rutte’s Liberals are both expected to take 22 seats in the election, according to a Feb. 28 EenVandaag poll published on Tuesday. The Liberals, the Christian Democrats, the D66 party and Labor, all of which have said they won’t work with Wilders, are expected to collectively win 70 seats.

Rutte warned that the Freedom Party is still very close in the polls and that the international community will be watching the Netherlands, which will hold the first major election in Europe since the U.K. voted to leave the European Union and Donald Trump became president in the U.S.

“They will look at us when this happens,” Rutte said in the interview. “This means the chaos we’ve seen with Brexit, the chaos we’ve seen with Trump, we can reverse the trend here.”

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