With less than two days until the opening of the ballot stations and the Dutch campaign in full swing, the countdown to winning over the significant numbers of undecided voters is on. This weekend was supposed to be the culmination of most of the campaigns and it started well with a sunlit Saturday. Candidates, former and active politicians, and volunteers (including yours truly) canvassed, organised debates, handed out gadgets and goodies, and dealt with domestic policy questions.
All of it changed with the Turkish incident that evening; the Turkish Foreign Minister looking to campaign in Rotterdam for the Turkish referendum was denied landing rights for his plane, resulting in the Turkish Minister for Family Business driving from Germany to Rotterdam to campaign, even though the Dutch government had requested she not do so. The Dutch government ended up declaring the Turkish Minister an unwanted alien and (forcefully, as she refused to go) escorted her back to Germany. The diplomatic riot between the Netherlands and Turkey escalated, stirring up the pleasantly domestic campaigns and reminding the Dutch there is a big bad world out there. The incident gave Prime Minister Mark Rutte the opportunity to portray himself as a strong leader standing up for Dutch interests. Rutte positioned himself as drawing a line in the sand that the Turkish crossed, allowing him to be firm and decisive in directing the government response. After a hectic night and an early morning appearance on a centre-right talk show, Rutte found himself in the unique position of being backed by the leaders of all political parties just a few days before the elections.
Despite his well-known outspoken position on immigration and the Dutch identity, Geert Wilders has been all but invisible in all of this. Wilders tweeted about the incident, using harsh language. However, he did not make headlines or generate much publicity as Prime Minister Rutte and the local (Labour) mayor Ahmed Aboutableb dominated the news with their actions, making Wilders look like an ineffective bystander.
There have been no new polls published since the diplomatic incident and the subsequent riots that saw Turkish youths in Rotterdam pulling stones from the square dedicated to the memorial of the lives lost in the bombing of the city in 1940.
However, the expectation is that the events have been a gamechanger for these Dutch elections. The latest weighted average poll was published on Sunday, based on polls taken before the incident. It showed the same trends we have been seeing for weeks; Wilders’ populist PVV party steadily declining (13%), and D66 (progressive liberals, 12%), CDA (Christian Democrats, 12%) and SP (Socialist Party, 10%) slowly rising. The changes are minimal though; since January about 10 out of 150 seats changed in the polls. As a comparison; in the last election in 2012 the last two weeks of the campaign saw the Labour party alone almost doubling from 18 polled seats to 36 seats in the final poll and actually getting 38 seats in the elections.
The Turkish incident could finally significantly move the polls; Rutte’s conservative liberal VVD party (16%) is expected to gain support, potentially drawing away voters from Wilders as well as the smaller centre parties D66 and CDA. We will have to wait until tomorrow to see the actual effect on the (weighted averaged) polling and one more day before we know the task that the Dutch electorate has set for party leaders. Translating the final vote into a working coalition is a puzzle that could take months to complete.
Main image from https://www.flickr.com/photos/ministeriebz/