Home » Dutch party leaders clash in TV debate as election nears

Dutch party leaders clash in TV debate as election nears

Dutch party leaders have clashed in a tetchy televised debate, as the Netherlands election campaign entered its final days.

The country’s six main party leaders confronted each other in Rotterdam on Monday night, as a new poll suggested Frans Timmermans’ GreenLeft/Labour was neck and neck – on 27 seats of a total 150 – with the party that has led the past four governments, the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) under Dilan Yeşilgöz-Zegerius.

But the poll also showed a six-seat gain to 26 seats for Geert Wilders’ anti-Islam Party for Freedom, which has been campaigning on distrust in government and an immigration “stop”. Support for centre-right popular backbencher Pieter Omtzigt and his New Social Contract dropped four seats to 21 – although after the poll was taken, Omtzigt said he would be a prime ministerial candidate, one uncertainty that was troubling voters.

During the debate, the six main party leaders, including Farmer-Citizen Movement’s Caroline van der Plas and liberal democratic D66 leader Rob Jetten, interrupted each other and failed to agree on any subjects except the housing crisis.

At one point, Van der Plas burst out that it was “super-irritating” to be interrupted by Jetten, and Yeşilgöz-Zegerius attacked Timmermans on the costs of his social equity and climate plans. The former European Union heavyweight said Yeşilgöz-Zegerius should take responsibility for recent government scandals on childcare benefits fraud and ignoring earthquake damage caused by Groningen gas extraction. “I think a VVD that wants to take no accountability at all for the last 13 years is shameless and hope it is on the reserve benches for a while,” he said.

The ill-tempered spectacle came as the new poll suggested that a previous survey last week – which showed a surge for the far-right Party for Freedom – may also have galvanised progressive votes for GreenLeft/Labour.

Timmermans, meanwhile, has been campaigning for left-leaning voters to support him instead of smaller groups “otherwise the parties will find each other [in a coalition] on the right”. Research published on Monday from EenVandaag broadcaster’s opinion panel suggested half of Timmermans’ supporters would vote for him strategically.

Peter Kanne, a researcher for I&O, said: “From left to right, people think that immigration has become too big a problem.” Two-thirds want less of it, which has benefited the Party for Freedom, he added.

“Yeşilgöz has said she would embrace Wilders and let him in and Wilders has been very clever, saying he may be milder and can put things on ice, so it all comes together perfectly and you shouldn’t be surprised about the polls,” he told television programme Khalid & Sophie. “But there are error margins and this isn’t a prediction. The four parties are very close.”

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Campaigning turned violent in a cafe in Groningen when Thierry Baudet, head of the far-right Forum for Democracy, was hit on the head with a bottle of beer a few weeks after being attacked with an umbrella.