(CNSNews.com) – Amid an ongoing row over Turkish propaganda rallies in European countries, a Turkish party leader is urging ethnic Turks to turn out in large numbers in Wednesday’s elections in the Netherlands, to send a message to those parties that “insult the Turkish nation.”
“I hereby call on people of Turkish origin and Turkish citizens living in the Netherlands, not to forget those [politicians and parties] who inflamed Turkish-Dutch relations,” tweeted Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahceli.
“Do not make concessions to those who insult the Turkish nation, who abuse and assault our values with barbarism and brute force.”
Bahceli did not spell out his targets, but they likely include Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte as well as the populist Party for Freedom (PVV) leader Geert Wilders, whose anti-Islamist stances have made him a reviled figure in the Muslim world.
Among other things, Wilders has questioned the right of dual citizens in the Netherlands being allowed to vote in Dutch elections.
Rutte, leader of the centrist People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), angered Turkey at the weekend by prohibiting one Turkish cabinet minister from landing in the country and ordering another to be escorted to the border with Germany after she visited despite being warned not to do so.
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and Family Affairs Minister Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya had both wanted to address rallies aimed at winning Netherlands-based ethnic Turks’ support for a referendum next month on moving Turkey to an executive presidential system.
After Kaya was barred from addressing a rally in Rotterdam and escorted to the border, Turks clashed with police in the port city, in what Turkey claims was a disproportionate use of force against peaceful protestors.
The “yes” vote, if successful, could see Turkey’s Islamist president remain in power until 2029 – an effective tenure of 26 years for Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was prime minister from 2003-2014.
Erdogan’s supporters and surrogates have been seeking support of ethnic Turks in various European countries, many of whom are eligible to vote in the April 16 referendum.
Although the nationalist MHP is an opposition party, under Bahceli it has thrown its support fully behind the “yes” camp led by Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party. (The official opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP, is leading the “no” campaign.)
While executive presidential systems are often successful, critics worry about checks and balances and separation of powers in the proposed model for Turkey, particularly as Erdogan has earned a reputation for crackdowns on dissent and abuses of fundamental freedoms.
But in a series of tweets MHP leader Bahceli implied that Turkey can teach European Union countries, especially constitutional monarchies, about democracy, saying that the proposed changes in Turkey would be like “an earthquake shaking the old continent.”
His calls for Turks in the Netherlands to turn out in large numbers to send a message will play into concerns raised by those like Wilders about their country’s liberal democracy being under attack.
‘This injustice fills me with disgust’
Rutte’s VVD and other parties have all signaled they would not welcome the provocative Wilders into any future coalition. Rutte has also shifted rightwards in a bid to lure voters away from Wilders – hence the prime minister’s strong response to Turkey’s propaganda rallies.
A snap poll Monday by veteran Dutch pollster Maurice de Hond indicated that Wilders and Rutte had benefitted most from the flare-up with Turkey, with the VVD polling at 27 seats (in the 150-seat parliament), up from 24 seats just before the weekend, and Wilders’ PVV in second place at 24 seats, up from 22.
The poll also found that three of the top four issues for Dutch voters relate to security and immigration – the fight against terrorism (47 percent), standing up for Dutch standards and values (44 percent), and integration and immigration (44 percent).
Even the fourth issue, affordability of healthcare (identified by 45 percent of respondents) is not unrelated to the broader theme. In his electoral manifesto, Wilders wrote, “It is intolerable that Dutch people are avoiding healthcare because they cannot afford it, while asylum seekers, who on average have 1,000 euros ($1,065) more healthcare costs a year, get everything for free. This injustice fills me with disgust.”
The Turkish state news agency Anadolu published an article Monday suggesting that a relatively new party in the Netherlands called DENK, formed by two Turkish-Dutch lawmakers who left the center-left Labor Party, “is expected to win the votes of Turkish and Muslim citizens due to rising racism in the country.”
De Hond’s latest poll gives DENK two seats.
About five percent of the 17 million-strong Dutch population are Muslims. The population includes some 500,000 ethnic Turks and 381,000 Dutch Moroccans.
The Dutch elections will be followed by two others in Europe this year – in France and Germany – also characterized by concerns about terrorism and immigration, and with populist parties offering a challenge to more established ones.