3/3 FILE PHOTO: Dutch Party leader of VVD, Dilan Yesilgoz-Zegerius speaks on the campus of the University of Twente in Enschede, Netherlands, November 13 2023. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw/File photo 2/3
By Stephanie van den Berg
THE HAGUE (Reuters) – Dutch voters go to the polls on Wednesday, with four major groupings vying to propose the next prime minister and succeed outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte.
Here is a look at the top candidates:
DILAN YESILGOZ, LEADER OF THE CONSERVATIVE VVD PARTY
Turkish-born Yesilgoz, 46, has a shot at becoming the Netherlands’ first woman prime minister, with Rutte’s People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), which she now leads, neck and neck with main rivals in recent polls.
In the election campaign, Yesilgoz has distanced herself from Rutte, who has led the country for more than a decade.
She is campaigning to limit migration and says her own experience of fleeing to the Netherlands as an eight-year-old with Turkish Kurdish human rights activist parents informs her views.
Yesilgoz, who serves as Justice Minister, is often characterized as more media savvy than a policy expert. A self-confessed workaholic, she told journalists she only does three things besides work: sleep, exercise and try to eat healthy.
FRANS TIMMERMANS, LEADER OF THE COMBINED LABOUR AND GREEN LEFT TICKET
Known for overseeing the European Union’s Green Deal as European Commission Vice President, Timmermans, 62, returned to Dutch politics in August with the ambition of becoming prime minister.
The Labour and Green Left (PvdA/GL) parties running on a single ticket are polling well, alongside VVD and the far right Freedom Party (PVV).
Timmermans has made climate change, a key concern for leftwing voters, the central point of his campaign, along with attempts to win back support of blue-collar workers for Labour.
A son of a diplomat, Timmermans speaks English, German, French, Italian and Russian in addition to Dutch.
GEERT WILDERS, LEADER OF THE FAR RIGHT FREEDOM PARTY
Geert Wilders, 60, internationally known for his fiery anti-Islamic politics, has tried to soften his tone in the current campaign in the hopes of getting his party into government.
He said recently that opposing Islam remains at his party’s core but concerns over the cost of living, improving care for the elderly and limiting immigration are what he focuses on now.
After a last minute surge, polls suggest Wilders, one of the country’s most recognisable figures thanks to his dyed blond mane, may also have a shot at topping the vote.
His enduring popularity since he created PVV in 2006 has pushed ruling parties over the years to give the Netherlands one of Europe’s toughest immigration policies.
Abroad, his comments about the prophet Mohammed and calls for the Koran to be banned led to sometimes violent protests in countries including Pakistan, Indonesia and Egypt.
Death threats against Wilders, who has a conviction for discrimination after he insulted Moroccans at a campaign rally in 2014, mean he has lived under heavy police protection for years.
PIETER OMTZIGT, LEADER OF THE CENTRE-RIGHT NSC PARTY
One of the Netherlands’ longest serving parliamentarians Pieter Omtzigt, 49, long seen as a policy wonk, reinvented himself as the political conscience of the country.
Omtzigt, who broke with the Christian Democrats in 2021, founded his own “New Social Contract” (NSC) party in August. He is slightly trailing the three frontrunners in some polls.
As a parliamentarian, he earned a reputation as a “political pit bull” with his tenacity and in-depth knowledge of complex political questions, coupled with a willingness to challenge ministers of his own party.
One of Rutte’s cabinets collapsed in 2021 when Omtzigt played a key role in pursuing a scandal in which thousands of families had been wrongfully accused of benefit fraud on the basis of their ethnicity.
Omtzigt has positioned himself as a centrist: conservative on immigration and climate change but leftist on reducing poverty and improving healthcare. His party’s top goal is reforming lawmaking and policy.
He has endeared himself to the public with his distinct regional accent and the fact that he commutes over two hours each way by train to his home in Enschede, close to the German border, instead of moving closer to parliament in The Hague.