Relations between Turkey and the Netherlands have drastically deteriorated since Turkish ministers were barred from holding rallies in Dutch cities. But has the furious response from Ankara played into the hands of Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte on the eve of the Dutch general election?

Dutch voters go to the polls today to vote in one of the most proportionately representative elections in the world. There will be no direct overall ‘winner’ and the likely outcome will be a coalition government. The latest update of the peilingwijzer is showing a clear lead for Rutte’s VVD over the main contender, Wilders’ PVV.

Neck and neck

For weeks the VVD and PVV had been neck and neck. Today though, the VVD is expected to gain between 24 and 28 seats, while the PVV lags behind on between 19 and 23 seats. This, however, does not take into account the unusually high number of Dutch voters who had not yet decided who to vote for.

So where has Rutte’s apparent bounce-back come from? In a campaign dominated by Wilders’ agenda of xenophobia, islamophobia and anti-immigration, Rutte’s response in the face of Erdoğan’s fury has arguably allowed him to don the mantle of statesman. By having the Turkish family minister expelled from the Netherlands to prevent her campaigning in Turkey’s upcoming referendum, Rutte was seen to take definite action. Meanwhile, for all his bluster, Wilders has been able to do little more than protest in the rain outside the Turkish embassy in The Hague.

It remains to be seen whether Rutte’s actions in the ‘Turkey spat’ (Turkijerel) will have won him the largest share of the vote today. Unfortunately, with another month to go until Turkey votes on whether to adopt a powerful executive presidency, it is unlikely that President Erdoğan will tone down his rhetoric. In recent days he has compared the Dutch to Nazis, and has held them responsible for the Srebrenica massacre.

While the diplomatic spat escalates, it is hard to see the xenophobia which Wilders has brought to the election campaign disappearing. Whoever manages to form the next Dutch government will have to handle deteriorating relations with Turkey, while also healing the wounds in Dutch society which Wilders’ xenophobic campaign has exposed. The next prime minister will have a lot of work to do.