Both leaders laid out starkly opposing visions of their country's future in the campaign.
Both leaders laid out starkly opposing visions of their country's future in the campaign.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte on Monday clashed with his main rival Geert Wilders of the far-right Party for Freedom (PVV), as they laid out starkly opposing visions of their country's future in an election campaign now consumed by a diplomatic row with Turkey.

Two days before Wednesday's crucial general election, The Netherlands is mired in a dispute with Turkey, which has provided fodder for Wilders and his anti-immigration stance.

"Close the Dutch borders," Wilders told Rutte, as tempers flared in the 30-minute head-to-head televised debate between the two front-runners.

Wilders accused Rutte, head of the liberal People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), of providing better healthcare for newcomers than the Dutch themselves.

"We need to choose for our own people, for our own parents, and not for the asylum seekers. You are not the prime minister of the Netherlands, but of the foreigners."

That's a totally fake solution, you want Nexit, you want The Netherlands out of Europe. You know what it will cost ... don't do it – Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte

Wilders, who says he is on a mission against the "Islamisation" of the country, has promised to shut Dutch borders to Muslim immigrants, close mosques and ban sales of the Quran.

He also wants to follow the British and pull the country out of the European Union which it helped found.

Rutte dismissed Wilders' plans as "fake solutions." "While we are focusing on the causes of the refugee crisis, you're wasting all your attention on your Quran police," Rutte said.

"There's a difference between tweeting from the sofa and running a country. If you are in charge of a country, you need to take sensible measures," Rutte said in a jab at the Dutch MP known for his love of Twitter.

"I want The Netherlands to be the first country which stops this trend of the wrong sort of populism," Rutte said.

Close race

Polls suggest Wednesday's results could be close, with Rutte's VVD returning as the largest party in the 150-seat parliament by a whisker.

There are 28 parties seeking to woo the 12.9 million eligible voters, and observers have warned that forming a coalition will likely take months and demand tough compromises.

The Dutch elections are being closely watched even as the French presidential election begins next month, with the far-right Marine Le Pen ahead in one poll on Monday, and in September, Alternative for Germany, a right-wing, eurosceptic party, is likely to win seats for the first time in the German federal parliament.

After Britain's unexpected vote to quit the European Union and the election of EU-sceptic Donald Trump in the United States, Europe will soon know whether a wave of anti-establishment sentiment threatens the survival of the EU.

The more immediate question in the Netherlands is whether the Turkey row will favour Wilders or Rutte, whose cabinet banned Turkish ministers from holding a rally in the Netherlands.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies