HomeBussinessDutch candidates snipe, scramble for undecided voters in race to deliver PM

Dutch candidates snipe, scramble for undecided voters in race to deliver PM


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AMSTERDAM, Nov 21 (Reuters) – Top candidates have gone on the offensive in the final days of the Netherlands’ national election, with late polls showing Labour leader Frans Timmermans and anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders making gains.

A first-place finish for Timmermans in Wednesday’s vote could swing the next government toward the centre and more spending on climate policies, while first place for Wilders could bring a hard-right coalition with a strong anti-immigration line.

Either would mean an upset for Dilan Yesilgoz, caretaker Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s successor as leader of the pro-business VVD Party, who has been the frontrunner for much of the campaign and has a realistic chance of becoming the country’s first woman prime minister.

“Ms. Yesilgoz has learned well from Rutte how to deal in hyperbole and half-truths,” Timmermans said in an attack during a debate on Monday in which she criticized his plans, which include increasing the minimum wage and raising taxes.

“We are going to tax millionaires. That’s not nice for the millionaires, but that’s how you get a more fair country,” said Timmermans, who is leading a combined Labour and Green Left ticket.

Major issues for Dutch voters include how to respond to climate change, the rising cost of living, and a desire to restrict immigration.

The most recent opinion poll published by I&O Research on Monday forecast Yesilgoz’s VVD and Timmermans’ Labour/Green Left level on 27 seats each in the 150-member Dutch parliament, with Wilders’ Freedom Party just behind at 26 seats.

A newly launched centrist reform party known as “New Social Contract” is in fourth place at 21 seats. With 76 seats needed for a majority, lengthy coalition talks look inevitable.

The VVD and New Social Contract are almost certain to make up part of the next government, with either Freedom or Labour, who won’t work with each other, as the third member of a coalition.

Analysts said that with large numbers of undecided voters, much will depend on debate performances, including a final clash scheduled for Tuesday night.

The election became necessary when Rutte’s previous government collapsed in July over disagreements on how to restrict an influx of asylum-seekers. Rutte later said he would leave Dutch politics.

Wilders, a populist known for saying the Koran should be banned and calling for “fewer” Moroccans in the Netherlands, has sought to soften his image in hopes of entering government.

Opposition to “Islam will never leave our DNA, but the priority is now on other matters,” he said last week.

Yesilgoz, who had not ruled out a coalition with Wilders and had focused on Timmermans as her main opponent, has begun backtracking.

“Everyday it’s a mystery which Geert Wilders you’ll encounter,” she said on Monday. On Tuesday she ruled out serving in a cabinet in which Wilders is prime minister.

The party that wins the most seats traditionally takes a lead in negotiations and provides the prime minister — but that is not guaranteed under the Dutch system.

Rutte will remain on in a caretaker role until a new Cabinet is installed sometime in 2024.

Reporting by Toby Sterling, Editing by William Maclean

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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