Row with Turkey overshadows Dutch vote

The Dutch voted in parliamentary elections on Wednesday. All eyes were on far-right eurosceptic Geert Wilders, who was polling a close second to two-term prime minister Mark Rutte, who leads the centre-right People’s Party (VVD).

The last days of campaigning were overshadowed by a row between the Dutch and Turkish governments over the Netherlands’ refusal to allow two Turkish government ministers to address rallies in the Netherlands on constitutional reform, ahead of a referendum in Turkey on 16 April. The Dutch government feared their appearance could provoke unrest in the run-up to an election in which immigration has played a key role, say Mehul Srivastava and Duncan Robinson in the FT.

Rutte has taken a tough stance on immigration to “fend off the challenge” from Wilders, who on Sunday called for Turks loyal to the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to be expelled from the Netherlands. Erdogan has since suspended diplomatic relations with the Dutch.

Erdogan’s reforms would scrap Turkey’s parliamentary system and create an executive presidency, leading the Council of Europe to warn of a “degeneration… towards an authoritarian… regime”, says the FT. While Erdogan is a brilliant campaigner, the dangers of his proposals are not lost on voters, and it is likely to be a “tight race”; hence the importance of the Turkish diaspora. There are 400,000 Turks in the Netherlands and 1.5 million in Germany, all of whom could provide critical votes for Erdogan.

Unfortunately, the confrontations with European capitals (Austria, Switzerland and Germany have also cancelled Turkish campaign events) have provided him with a “gift”. Erdogan has accused Germany and the Netherlands of “Nazi” behaviour. That may seem “ludicrous” to Europeans but “delights Turkish nationalists”. Images of Turkish protestors being beaten by riot police are “even more effective”. It is harder to tell what effect the episode will have on the Dutch vote, although Rutte’s strong stance and refusal to bow to pressure may give him the edge he needs to win.