Turkey row has little impact on Dutch rivals’ ratings - poll

One of last opinion polls of election predicting dead heat between Rutte and Wilders

Mark Rutte, Dutch prime minister and leader of the Liberal Party (VVD), arrives for a news conference in Rotterdam, Netherlands, on Monday, March 13th, 2017. Photograph: Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg

Mark Rutte, Dutch prime minister and leader of the Liberal Party (VVD), arrives for a news conference in Rotterdam, Netherlands, on Monday, March 13th, 2017. Photograph: Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg

 

As Dutch premier Mark Rutte and far-right leader Geert Wilders prepared for a crucial face-to-face TV debate on Monday evening, one of the final opinion polls of the election was predicting a dead heat between them in the battle to form a new coalition government.

With the Netherlands locked in a diplomatic row with Turkey over the refusal of the former to allow two Turkish ministers to address a pro-Erdogan rally at the weekend, the poll conducted by the programme on which the two leaders were due to meet suggested the controversy had had little or no impact on their ratings.

Published just before the eagerly anticipated debate on the current affairs show EenVandaag got under way, the poll showed both Mr Rutte’s Liberals and Mr Wilders’s Freedom Party on 24 seats each in the 150-seat parliament, just one day before polling booths open on Wednesday.

Tightest result

This is the tightest polling result of the campaign. After a strong lead for Mr Wilders last month, the two parties were alternating within a seat or two of each other at the start of March, with the latest poll of polls on Sunday apparently confirming the Liberals were pulling marginally ahead.

According to German market researchers GfK, this latest poll was conducted on Sunday and early Monday, immediately after the clashes between Dutch police and pro-Erdogan supporters in Rotterdam – in which riot police with dogs and water cannon were used to quell violent protests.

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused the Dutch government of attempting to capitalise on the row over the Rotterdam rally to show that Mr Rutte is just as tough on immigrants as Mr Wilders – infamous for referring to young Moroccan troublemakers as “scum”.

Tough line

However, said EenVandaag presenter Gijs Rademaker, the figures for Mr Rutte and Mr Wilders remained “virtually unchanged” compared to a poll by the same programme a week ago, despite the fact that the other main parties had broadly supported Mr Rutte’s uncharacteristically tough line.

Even so, the figures could not be taken as an early indication of Wednesday evening’s result, Mr Rademaker cautioned.

“When you look at how closely the first six parties are bunched together and then take into account the margins for error, you realise that anything can still happen – especially given that this is the first debate between Rutte and Wilders.”

With the Liberals and the Freedom Party on 24 seats each, the programme’s poll confirms the resurgence of the Christian Democrats on 21 seats, with D66, Green Left and the Socialists all on 16 seats each, Labour on 10 seats, and the remaining parties in single figures.

If Mr Rutte wins the popular vote, this would indicate a five-party government led by the Liberals and the Christian Democrats – a coalition that could take weeks if not months to negotiate.

If Mr Wilders emerges ahead, the shape of the next government depends on whether or not he can persuade some of those parties to work with him – which they have pledged not to do.

Before the TV debate got under way, the European Commission called on Ankara to “refrain from excessive statements” which would worsen the diplomatic row with the Netherlands – a reference to Mr Erdogan’s description of the Dutch government as “Nazi remnants and fascists”.

Sanctions threat

However, in a speech broadcast live on television on Monday, Mr Erdogan threatened diplomatic sanctions against the Netherlands and said he would go to the European Court of Human Rights over a ban on Ankara’s ministers speaking there.

He also accused Germany of “mercilessly” supporting terrorism.

It’s understood the EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, spoke by telephone to the Dutch foreign minister, Bert Koenders, and to his Turkish counterpart, Mevlüt Cavusoglu, urging them to attempt to restore relations.

At the same time, Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg appealed to the two countries, both members of the military alliance – to “de-escalate the tension”, saying: “Robust debate is at the heart of our democracies, but so also is mutual respect.”

There are also business implications. If Ankara imposes economic sanctions it would be extremely costly for the Netherlands, which exports goods worth €6.5 billion a year to Turkey.

As a result of the confrontation, the Netherlands has modified its travel advice to tourists visiting Turkey, warning them to “avoid busy places and large groups of people”. Dutch consular offices have been closed on the orders of the Turkish authorities.