The Dutch election was upended by a diplomatic standoff with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as a spiral of increasingly hostile rhetoric threatened to overshadow the final stretch of campaigning and influence voting. The international incident centered on the Netherlands could benefit both Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s Liberals and the anti-Islam Freedom Party of populist Geert Wilders. Erdogan said on Sunday that the Netherlands would “pay the price” after Rutte’s government denied entry to Turkey’s foreign minister and escorted a second Turkish minister to the Dutch border.
The reality in Turkey is that no one, other than the governing party, is allowed to hold protests these days. The leader of the pro-Kurdish party is in prison as are 13 of the party’s elected deputies. Over 80 mayors, and more than 100 journalists have been jailed. The country has been in a state of emergency since the failed coup attempt last summer. Turkish citizens of all stripes have quietly been streaming into Europe with asylum requests.
3.5 million Turks live in Germany, and around 400,000 in the Netherlands. Many of them in both countries are second- or third-generation Turkish citizens with successful careers. Turkey is an indispensable ally in Europe’s efforts to isolate itself from the chaos and instability in the Middle East. For Erdogan, the escalation is a bounty to galvanize the still-undecided conservative and nationalist voters in the run-up to the April 16 referendum, designed to bestow him with sweeping powers.
The upshot may be to re-energize Wilders’s campaign just as it appeared to be fading. He wasn’t very visible during the campaign and not very involved. But in the end it’s his main theme that’s at stake now. A snap poll on the incident by Peil.nl found that 86 percent of more than 2,000 respondents said that Rutte had done a good job during the dispute. However, it also found that Freedom Party voters were fired up, with Wilders supporters saying for first time during the campaign they would “certainly” vote for his party.