Dutch polls open in test of global populist movement

Following the latest round of televised debates on Tuesday night in which representatives of 13 parties competed, Prime Minister Rutte's People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) is leading Wilder's Party for Freedom (PVV) by a small margin.

While the Dutch election will be closely watched for any surge in the populist vote ahead of voting in the first round of the French election on April 23, talk that the United Kingdom government may trigger Article 50 this week is also increasing political risk and putting downward pressure on the single currency.

The battle between center-right Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Geert Wilders - a populist who has campaigned on banning the Koran, shutting mosques, and pulling the country out of the European Union - has increased the focus on the vote, especially with far-right parties showing well in opinion polls in France and Germany, where elections are due later this year.

So why are polls indicating that the ruling parties are hemorrhaging votes ahead of the March 15 national elections, while right-wing anti-Islam lawmaker Geert Wilders is set to make substantial gains?

Amid such a fragmented political landscape and the possibility that the next government would comprise an unwieldy four- or five-party coalition, a lot of Dutch may well vote strategically. Wilders argued Rutte was insulting a million voters by excluding him from the negotiations in advance and accused his rivals of being "liars and spendthrifts". But I'm afraid it's going to be very fragmented and hard to form a government'. It showed Rutte as refusing to bow to pressure from outside, a stance which has widespread backing in the nation.

In one tense exchange, Rutte said it was time to de-escalate the crisis, but Wilders retorted: "We must answer back".

Rutte said Erdoğan's comments were unacceptable but ruled out any further escalation of the conflict. "Chase this man away and put me in the prime minister's office".

Mr Rutte also criticised his comments that the Dutch have "rotten character". Wilders, who has said he would bar immigrants to the Netherlands from Muslim countries, says that he has already won the election because on policies "everyone is moving toward us".

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Rutte repeated his vow never to work with Wilders again, accusing him of causing problems for the country after the peroxide-haired MP triggered the collapse of an earlier coalition in 2012.

"The Netherlands does not belong to all of us", he proclaimed. Officials here say they did it in the name of security.

- The Dutch general election on Wednesday is prompting a risk-off tone, while talk intensifies that the United Kingdom may trigger Article 50 on Tuesday. "You know what it will cost... don't do it".

That led to an angry reaction from the leader of the leftist Labour Party or PvdA.

The ugly debate came amid a diplomatic storm between the Netherlands and Turkey in which Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan branded the Dutch "Nazis".

"Our prime minister did a very good job at the right moment for the elections", said Albert Busch, an entrepreneur from Limmen.

However, a greater than expected swing to the PVV may lead to elevated volatility in European asset prices, if only because it keeps the anti-establishment momentum going, ahead of the far more interesting French Presidential Election first round on the 23 April.