Rutte Warns of Dutch Chaos If Populist Wilders Wins Election

Updated on
  • Netherlands goes to polls in national election on March 15
  • Prime Minister Rutte close in the polls with Geert Wilders

How to Spot a Populist Politician

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte sounded the alarm over the prospect of Geert Wilders placing first in this month’s election, warning of the economic chaos that would ensue if the anti-euro Freedom Party leader got a hold on power.

Rutte, speaking in an interview on the sidelines of a campaign event in Amsterdam on Thursday, said the Netherlands has the chance on March 15 to draw a line in the sand over the spread of populism through western democracies. The Dutch can choose to send a signal to the world that it’s possible to “stop that trend,” said Rutte.

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But if Wilders takes the most votes, “internationally it would mean that people say the next domino has fallen, no matter who eventually governs,” Rutte said. “After Brexit, the U.S, also the Netherlands -- then France, Germany and Italy will follow. If you look at the chaos that arose in the U.S. and the U.K., then it’s essential we avoid that.”

With the Netherlands holding the first of three big elections in Europe this year, Rutte is casting his Liberals as the best chance of forming a bulwark against the rise of nationalist movements such as Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France and the Alternative for Germany.

Falling Polls

While the anti-Islam, anti-European Union Freedom Party has led the Liberals for much of the campaign, recent polls suggest Wilders’s party may be fading. The latest Ipsos weekly poll published late on Thursday showed the Freedom Party with 24 seats in the 150-seat lower house of parliament, down two on the week, compared with 28 seats for the Liberals.

Mark Rutte. Photographer: Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg

Mark Rutte. Photographer: Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg

The Dutch election illustrates the splintering of politics as voters abandon the traditional mainstream in favor of single issue parties or radical voices that address specific concerns. With 28 parties contesting the election and as many as 14 of them forecast to enter the parliament, forces on all sides are in with a chance of sharing power.

“People don’t want to vote for an old, classic party anymore -- and rightly so,” Jesse Klaver, leader of the Greens, said in an interview with Het Financieele Dagblad newspaper published Friday. “The Greens are becoming a broad people’s party,” and with an average of 16 seats in recent surveys, “we’ve never been as high in the polls as now.”

Since the mainstream Dutch parties have rejected working with Wilders, who was convicted last year of making discriminatory comments toward immigrants, it’s still unlikely the Freedom Party will become part of a governing coalition after the election.

Read more: Who is Geert Wilders, anyway? -- a Q&A explainer

Rutte said the prospect of Wilders placing first still posed a “huge risk.”

“It’s not about who will eventually govern. It’s about the signal that will be given if Wilders becomes the biggest” force, Rutte said. “And if he eventually got power -- although not with my support -- there is the risk that after an economic recovery we will enter into a major course change, and that chaos would arise.”

Wilders, who announced on Wednesday that he’ll resume campaigning after suspending public events due to security concerns, responded on Twitter to Rutte’s warnings that his Freedom Party could top the polls.

“That’s right. Rutte’s not lying this time,” he tweeted.

Economic Boost

Rutte is campaigning on the strength of the economy’s performance during his tenure. The European Commission projects gross domestic product in the Netherlands to be 2 percent in 2017, outstripping the 1.6 percent projected in the euro area. Dutch unemployment will fall to 5.2 percent next year, compared with 9.6 percent in the currency bloc.

“Now it’s going so much better in the Netherlands, I want people to personally profit from it,” Rutte said.

Wilders, who has campaigned on the platforms of leaving the EU and stopping immigration from Muslim nations, has lived for more than a decade under constant police protection following death threats.

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.”

— With assistance by Anne Van Der Schoot

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