Immigration was the dominant issue of the Dutch campaign, after years of war and misery in the Middle East that swept millions of refugees and migrants into Europe in recent years. Geert Wilders, a fiery fixture of the Dutch far-right who wants to ban the Koran and shutter mosques, topped polls for months, unnerving mainstream leaders in France and Germany who face elections later this year.
His support has waned in recent weeks, but he has already forced many Dutch parties to sharpen their rhetoric toward immigrants…
“You could say these are the quarterfinals. The quarterfinals in trying to prevent the wrong sort of populism to win,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said Monday. “The half-finals are in France, in April and May. And then in September in Germany, we have the finals. And I want the Netherlands to be the first country which stops this trend of the wrong sort of populism.”
Rutte’s center-right Party for Freedom and Democracy has overtaken Wilders in polling in recent weeks, but even if the prime minister remains in office, he will probably have to form a broad and weak coalition among the kaleidoscope of small parties in the parliament.