Spat With Turkey Appears to Boost Dutch Prime Minister on Eve of Election

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Pre-election polls in the Netherlands, one day before voters choose a new parliament, suggest that Prime Minister Mark Rutte could be returned to office as the head of the country’s largest party, boosted by a wave of approval for his feud with Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Rutte, who is trying to stave off a challenge from the virulently anti-Muslim xenophobe Geert Wilders, provoked fury from the Turkish government on Saturday by blocking Turkey’s foreign minister from the country. The foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, had planned to rally expatriate Turks in Rotterdam, ahead of an upcoming referendum in Turkey that would alter the Turkish constitution to give the office of the presidency more power.

After Rutte barred the foreign minister, and then expelled another Turkish minister who arrived in Rotterdam by car without permission, Erdogan first compared the Dutch to Nazis and then blamed them for the massacre of 8,000 Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica in 1995.

That massacre was, in fact, carried out by Bosnian Serb forces who overran the town, but a lightly-armed battalion of Dutch peacekeepers did fail to prevent the slaughter.

Images of the Dutch police using water cannon and dogs to disperse protests by Erdogan supporters in Rotterdam angered Turkish officials, but appeared to please the tabloid press and its readers in the Netherlands.

As tensions between the two countries continued to escalate, members of President Erdogan’s ruling party beat a Norwegian journalist in Istanbul they mistook for a Dutch national, and Prime Minister Rutte told the BBC the Turkish leader’s comments were “more and more hysterical by the day.”

Wilders, a former member of Rutte’s center-right VVD party who now campaigns almost exclusively on a hatred of Islam — and praised Donald Trump’s efforts to ban Muslims from the United States — helped to stoke anti-Turkish sentiment last week, when he appeared outside the Turkish embassy in The Hague, surrounded by his bodyguards, and holding a banner that read: “Stay Away — This Is Our Country.”

After Rutte’s crackdown on Erdogan supporters seemed to increase his popularity, Wilders tried to up the ante, calling for the Turkish ambassador to the Netherlands to be expelled along with his entire staff.

In response, Rutte told Wilders during a televised debate on Monday night that there was “a difference between tweeting from a couch and leading the country.” Wilders’ desire to escalate the confrontation even further, Rutte said, showed that he was not fit to lead the country.

In polling conducted after the start of the crisis, Rutte’s center-right party, the VVD, appeared to gain in projected vote-share, and seemed likely to emerge as the largest party in the next parliament, as the Wilders-led PVV slipped to second in one poll and as far as fifth in another.

Buoyed by this surge in support, Rutte told the BBC correspondent Gabriel Gatehouse on Tuesday that he expected to defeat Wilders and keep the Netherlands from following in the footsteps of Britain and the United States by handing power to anti-immigrant extremists.

Despite a large number of undecided voters on the eve of the election, the Dutch system of proportional representation, combined with a splintering of support among a dozen or more parties, makes it likely that no one party will take more than 20 percent of the overall vote for the 150-seat parliament.

Even if the polls are off, and Wilders does emerge as the leader of the largest party, political analysts put his chances of leading the next coalition government at “the square root of not much,” as Glen Newey observed in the London Review of Books.

Top Photo: Prime Minister Mark Rutte, leader of the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, sat behind Geert Wilders of the Freedom Party ahead of a televised debate on Tuesday.

The post Spat With Turkey Appears to Boost Dutch Prime Minister on Eve of Election appeared first on The Intercept.

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