RTL’s election debate will go ahead on 26 February, but without Mark Rutte and Wilders. The go-ahead for the televised show was called into question on Sunday when the two leaders announced that they would no longer take part. This was supposedly because more than the agreed number of parties had been invited.
According to an Ipsos-Nederland poll this month, Wilders’ PVV may well be set to emerge as the largest party following the Dutch general election on 15 March, with current Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s VVD emerging as second-largest. The poll has put the PVV on 28 seats – still far from a majority in the 150-seat Dutch parliament – meaning that the PVV would need to form a coalition to be able to rule. However, virtually all other Dutch parties have ruled this out. The Peilingwijzer, which aggregates polling information, likewise puts the PVV out front, with the VVD close second.
RTL had originally planned to invite the leaders of the largest four parties based on the Peilingwijzer. However, the CDA, D66 and GroenLinks all polled so closely that RTL reportedly felt obligated to invite a total of five parties to the upcoming debate, which will take place at De Rode Hoed theater in Amsterdam. This led Rutte and Wilders to pull out. Yet, due to public demand for more televised debate, the event will still go ahead, with the CDA, D66, GroenLinks, PvdA and SP taking part.
The debate will thus take place without the leaders of the two projected largest parties, thereby potentially diminishing its significance. On the other hand, the new line-up may work in favour of the remaining parties, who might otherwise have struggled to put their policies across in the shadow of the VVD and PVV leaders. It remains to be seen whether the combative spectacle of the debate will suffer in the absence of Mark ‘pleur op’ Rutte and Geert ‘minder minder’ Wilders. But what is lost in grandstanding may well be gained in actual policy detail.
The debate will be broadcast live on RTL 4 at 9pm on 26 February.