Image Geert Wilders

Dutch elections to test populism in Europe, with far right Geert Wilders

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Dutch elections will be held today, testing the popularity of the right-wing populist Party for Freedom (PVV) of Geert Wilders. These elections are viewed as a bellwether for upcoming elections in France and Germany.

PVV, founded by Wilders, is one of the most anti-Muslim in Europe with Wilders recently referring to Moroccans as “scum.” PVV is expected to be one of the three top vote earners. It has also made a point of campaigning against the establishment of the country, challenging the center-right government of Prime Minister Mark Rutte.

Rutte’s government has had a major diplomatic spat with the Turkish government, which has dominated the election cycle domestically. The incident started Saturday, when the Netherlands wouldn’t allow Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu to visit Rotterdam for a political rally. When denied space to rally, members of the local Turkish minority held the event at the Turkish consulate, which then escalated into a clash with police. An estimated 400,000 Turks live in the Netherlands.

In retaliation, Turkey barred the Dutch ambassador from returning to Ankara, and suspended high-level relations with the Hague, accusing the Dutch of “Nazi” tactics. On Tuesday, Turkey threatened sanctions against the Netherlands, and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the Dutch of carrying out a massacre of Muslim men at Srebrenica, Bosnia, in 1995.

Image Dutch General Election 2017

According to Erdogan, “We know the Netherlands and the Dutch people from the Srebrenica massacre. We know how rotten their character is from their massacre of 8,000 Bosnians there.”

This escalating diplomatic incident has been the dominant news story in the Netherlands during the election cycle, and Wilders called for the deportation of the Turkish ambassador during a debate over the weekend.

Rutte’s response to Wilders’ calls for curbs on immigration has been to propose his own immigration restrictions, but the third option, Jesse Klaver, the half Moroccan leader of the Green Party, has an opposite message.

“This year is not only about the election in the Netherlands, but elections in the whole of Europe,” said Klaver. “In the Netherlands, we have to show that populism can be stopped and there is an alternative. That alternative is us.”

As the elections come to a close, the results will reflect both the strength of the competing ideologies of the candidates, and the impact of the diplomatic incident with Turkey.