ROTTERDAM, Netherlands (AP) — The Dutch prime minister said Monday that he wants the Netherlands to turn the tide of populism in this week's parliamentary election.
"Remember the Brexit. We all thought that would never happen. Remember the U.S. elections," Mark Rutte told reporters in Rotterdam. "So let's not make that mistake again. These elections are crucial. Let us stop the domino effect right this week, this Wednesday. The domino effect of the wrong sort of populism winning in this world."
The Dutch election is being seen as a key indicator of the future of populism in Europe after Britain's vote to leave the European Union and Donald Trump's victory in the U.S. presidential election. Later this year, two far bigger European nations, France and Germany, also go to the polls
Rutte was speaking before a head-to-head debate with far-right, anti-Islam lawmaker Geert Wilders whose Party for Freedom, or PVV, has been sliding in polls recently but is still close to running neck and neck with Rutte's VVD.
Rutte has warned that an election victory for Wilders in Wednesday's vote could plunge the Netherlands into chaos. Wilders' election platform includes closing Dutch borders to all immigrants from Muslim nations, closing all mosques and banning the Quran. He also wants to take the Netherlands out of the European Union.
Rutte's warnings appear aimed at swaying undecided voters away from the PVV and boosting the vote for his own party. Wilders is unlikely to be able to form the next government even if he wins the popular vote as all mainstream parties have ruled out working with him. The Netherlands' proportional representation voting system guarantees coalitions.
Rutte stressed again that he would not work with Wilders, who abandoned support for Rutte's first minority coalition in 2012, refusing to back a tough austerity package.
Rutte attacked Wilders for walking out when the going got tough, and also played up his own leadership credentials.
He said this nation of 17 million has seen a strong economic recovery in recent years with his two-party coalition at the helm
"I believe I have shown in the past four years that I'm able to provide that leadership," Rutte said.