Mar 09, 2017 (LBO) – The Dutch will vote in a general election next week that will focus the world’s attention on trends in populism and the future of the European Union.
The election on March 15 is a dead heat between Geert Wilders, leader of the populist Party of Freedom (PVV), and Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who leads the People’s Party for Freedom (VVD).
“That could be the canary in the coal mine,” said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at Wunderlich Securities, the Economist reported. “This could be a preview of what could happen in the French election.”
Prime Minister Rutte has led his center-right party since 2006, and he has been credited for changes that helped lift the economy out of the doldrums after the 2008-9 economic crisis.
But in January Rutte took a page from Wilders playbook saying there was “something wrong with our country” and the “the silent majority” would no longer tolerate immigrants who come and “abuse our freedom.”
Rutte castigated ‘antisocial’ behavior like littering and spitting, and broadened his critique to include people who do not respect women or gay rights.
Analysts said Rutte’s statement was a response to the polls, where he is behind Wilders, and a broader strategy to reconnect with disaffected voters who have been fleeing mainstream parties.
Meanwhile Wilders, like France’s populist Marine Le Pen, has won over voters with his brand of anti-European Union and anti-Islamic rhetoric. He called for a Dutch referendum on EU membership last year after the UK brexit vote.
His approach to economic policy is more open, however, while Le Pen takes a more protectionist approach.
Dutch pollster Peil.nl has predicted that Wilders’ PVV was on track to win 25 of 150 seats in parliament, with Rutte’s VVD on pace to win 24 seats. The poll also showed five other parties on pace to win at least 10 seats.
The pan-European Stoxx 600 index has advanced three percent this year, and has gained more than nine percent over the past year. The Netherlands has the sixth-largest economy in the European Union, with a GDP of around 735 billion dollars.