Dutch prime minister warns voters about ‘fake populism’

Mark Rutte says chaos will ensue if Geert Wilders wins election

Dutch far-right leader Geert Wilders drinks a beer  in a cafe in Volendam on Friday, after he resumed electioneering following a scare over his security. Photograph: Remko de Waal/EPA

Dutch far-right leader Geert Wilders drinks a beer in a cafe in Volendam on Friday, after he resumed electioneering following a scare over his security. Photograph: Remko de Waal/EPA

 

As far-right leader Geert Wilders resumes electioneering after a scare over his security last week, Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte has warned voters that a swing to the right in 10 days’ time would make the Netherlands the latest country to fall victim to “fake populism”.

In an extraordinary admission for a premier seeking re-election, Mr Rutte pointed to what he called “the chaos” that had followed Donald Trump’s election in the US and the Brexit vote in the UK, and conceded it was distinctly possible that Mr Wilders could win the popular vote.

Mr Rutte’s Liberals and Mr Wilders’s Freedom Party are level pegging in the polls, with every possibility that many “undecideds” will wait until a TV debate between the two men on March 13th to make up their minds.

Same chaos

The economy was improving, Mr Rutte said, but “if Geert Wilders achieves power, the direction of recovery in which this country is now going will change. That is a huge risk. The result would be the same chaos as we have seen in Britain or in the US.

“There is a real possibility that the Freedom Party will become the largest party after the election, making the Netherlands the latest domino to topple after the US and the UK – with the possibility that other dominoes may also fall in France or Germany.

“The Netherlands now has the chance to stop this European – even global – trend towards fake populism on March 15th. We have an opportunity to reverse that trend here. The international community will be watching the Netherlands. What signal do we wish to send?”

Mr Rutte used the term verkeerd populisme, which most accurately translates as “wrong populism” but which also means “false populism” or “fake populism” – echoing Mr Trump’s accusations of “fake news” and Mr Wilders’s claim that the Netherlands has “a fake parliament”.

It was a tone notably different from Mr Rutte’s advertisements last month when he warned immigrants whose behaviour did not reflect Dutch values that they should leave – comments widely criticised for allowing Mr Wilders to “drag all of Dutch politics in a nationalist direction”.

‘Poisonous atmosphere’

Interestingly too, it was a tone echoed by Labour’s Jeroen Dijsselbloem, president of the Eurogroup of euro zone finance ministers, who accused Mr Wilders of creating “a poisonous atmosphere . . . in which a whole segment of the population is characterised as a problem”.

The Freedom Party leader resumes public campaigning this weekend after concerns raised about his security when a police officer on the unit that provides his protection was arrested for alleged leaks.

He plans walkabouts in three towns, interviews with two gossip magazines, and is due to appear on a children’s television news show.