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THE HAGUE — Dutch voters may be about to choose someone very different from outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte.
Former refugee Dilan Yeşilgöz, who succeeded Rutte as leader of the VVD party, now leads the polls ahead of Wednesday’s vote and could become the first female prime minister in Dutch history.
The competition is on a razor’s edge, with three parties vying to win the most seats, but his closest rival, Pieter Omtzigt, has signaled he may not want to take the top job. pupil.
It is therefore even more likely that Yeşilgöz, the country’s justice minister, will become prime minister leading the next government.
Read more: How to watch the Dutch elections like a pro – POLITICO
A self-confessed workaholic, Yeşilgöz is a media expert and doesn’t talk much about being a woman in politics. She is invariably cheerful and energetic in public, despite what she considers to be the “difficult” demands of her current job. His liberal-conservative People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy now occupies first place with 18 points in the POLITICO poll, having succeeded Rutte as party leader.
His program is a promise to crack down on migration, an issue that has long preoccupied Dutch politics.
But Yeşilgöz told POLITICO that it was her own background as a refugee that shaped her view of migration.
“There is too large an influx of people, not only asylum seekers but also migrant workers and international students, which means we do not have the capacity to help real refugees,” Yeşilgöz said. . She cited problems in the system, including poor reception facilities for asylum seekers and a shortage of housing, as obstacles.
However, Yeşilgöz has a mountain ahead of her to succeed in the elections.
If the VVD wins, it would be exceptional. There are virtually no examples of parties in power which, upon a change of leadership, nevertheless remain the largest.
However, the latest POLITICO poll shows that the VVD is neck and neck with the new centrist outsider party Omtzigt, the New Social Contract. The Green-Left alliance of Frans Timmermans also has a chance, with 15 percent.
ELECTION POLL IN THE NETHERLANDS NATIONAL PARLIAMENT
For more polling data from across Europe, visit POLICY Poll of polls.
As justice minister in the current caretaker government, she has been described as a tough negotiator and excellent communicator, who does only three things besides her job: sleep, exercise and eat healthily.
But while Rutte has always been very private about his personal life, Yeşilgöz has been much more open, speaking candidly about his marriage, his struggles with an immune disease and his hesitation to have children.
Unlike Rutte, who was often seen cycling to appointments, Yeşilgöz is driven everywhere and has to be heavily protected by personal security officers due to her position as justice minister. “It’s a big part of my life and it’s very difficult. But I choose to continue, not to give up, because I will not be intimidated,” she said.
The increasingly violent and crude nature of public discourse in the Netherlands is a growing problem in Dutch politics. Outgoing Finance Minister Sigrid Kaag earlier announced she was leaving politics due to concerns over her security.
Fair and strict
Brussels is also closely monitoring the upcoming elections. The Netherlands has positioned itself under Rutte’s leadership as a reliable and dominant partner within the EU. But officials at embassies and institutions in Brussels are now wondering whether the next government will maintain such a positive role after the November 22 vote.
This is a clear “yes” from Yeşilgöz, if she ends up as prime minister. “As a small country, we can play an important role. We have always done this and it is extremely important that we continue to do so,” she said.
Playing with rigor and fair play will be the main pillars underpinning his approach to the EU, Yeşilgöz said. This includes not changing the criteria to be met when new countries wish to become members of the EU – a debate which is already intensifying in light of Ukraine’s bid to join the 27-country bloc.
Traditionally, the Dutch have been the chief hawks on EU fiscal policy, criticizing big spenders and demanding a reduction in debt levels. But more recently, the Dutch government has favored flexibility, within reason.
“I’m just very strict and I don’t look at the context at all, I exaggerate a little, it won’t be our line,” Yeşilgöz said. “But being very flexible and making things less clear and more complex is not our course of action either. Europe must be a stable cooperation and clear financial agreements are very important for this purpose.”
Even though the VVD is leading in the polls, the race is far from over.
Yeşilgöz’s main challenge during the campaign was convincing voters that she wanted renewal, even though her party has been in power for more than a decade.
Over the past 13 years, many things have gone well, she said, emphasizing that the Netherlands has overcome the economic crisis and the coronavirus pandemic relatively safely.
“At the same time, when you zoom in and see that many people with normal jobs and incomes are staying up at night because of their bills… so I can’t say that things are going well for everyone. world,” she said.
“On top of that, there have been blind spots in recent years,” she said. These include the poor handling of compensation claims related to earthquake damage in Groningen and the childcare benefit fiasco in which thousands of people, often with dual nationality, were falsely labeled as fraudsters. “It is obvious that we have learned lessons from this and that we must avoid the appearance of new blind spots. »
And what about its former leader, Rutte? He was spotted in Brussels earlier this month during a visit to NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg, after hinting he would like to take the job leading the military alliance himself.
When asked if Rutte was considering heading NATO, Yeşilgöz laughed. “Wherever he ends up, this organization is very lucky to have him,” she said.