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Rutte says Dutch voters can stop nationalist 'domino effect'

The prime minister said that the Dutch election could cause a ripple effect across Europe in favor of "the bad kind of populism." France and Germany also face an emboldened populist right in elections later this year.

Domino Dominosteine Symbolbild (picture-alliance/dpa/H. Wolfraum)

Rutte told voters tthere was a real chance that Wilders might win

Ahead of his first television debate against Geert Wilders on Monday night, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte called on Dutch voters to reject nationalist populism.

Two days ahead ofparliamentary elections, center-right Rutte said that if the Dutch electorate were to embrace Wilders and the PVV, they could trigger a "domino effect" in favor of extreme nationalism.

Using sports metaphors, he said that the upcoming parliamentary election on Wednesday were the "quarter finals" in the battle of moderate forces against right-wing radicals, while the French presidential election in April and May were the "half final" and Germany's September election marked the "final."

"I want the Netherlands to be the first country which stops this trend of the wrong sort of populism," he told reporters.

Wilders, the head of the right wing radical Party for Freedom (PVV), had previously refused to take part in several debates.

Rutte's centre-right People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) is thought to be the strongest contender in the parliamentary election, closely followed by Wilders' PVV.

Niederländischer Premierminister Mark Rutte bei Wahlkampagne in Breda (picture alliance/AP Photo/P. Dejong)

Rutte said there was a real chance that Wilders might emerge victorious

The VVD is currently polling at roughly 16 percent, the PVV at 13 percent.

Unless Wilders' party performs far beyond expectations, it is seen as highly unlikely that it will be involved in the next government - nearly all other parties have said they will not form a coalition with the PVV.

The prime minister warned that the PVV could still win, even though their poll numbers have recently declined. "Remember Brexit. We all thought that could never happen. Remember the US elections," Rutte told reporters.

Ahead of the Wednesday election, a diplomatic row with Turkey has dominated the Dutch news cycle. Rutte's administration had refused to let the Turkish ministers campaign for the upcoming constitutional referendum in the Netherlands - a referendum that could significantly strengthen Turkish president Erdogan and his right-wing, nationalist Justice and Development party.

mb/rc (AFP, AP, dpa)

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