World Bulletin / News Desk
The resignation of two Dutch ministers gives a further boost to the populist far-right Freedom Party of Geert Wilders ahead of March 18 provincial elections that threaten to destabilise the centre-right government.
Justice Minister Ivo Opstelten and his deputy, State Secretary Fred Teeven, resigned on Monday after acknowledging they had misled parliament about the facts surrounding a settlement with a drug kingpin in 2001.
"Now the rest of the cabinet (should quit). The sooner, the better," tweeted Wilders, known for his outspoken opposition to immigration, Islam and the euro.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has been summoned to answer questions in parliament later on Tuesday over the scandal that led to the resignations.
Dubbed the "crime-fighting duo" in the Dutch media, Opstelten and Teeven were the most popular cabinet ministers among conservative Dutch voters who might now turn instead to Wilders' party, which already leads opinion polls.
"They were the protective wall against the Freedom Party. (Rutte) has lost two battle-tested soldiers on the right and that's a problem."
Militants from ISIS, or Islamic State, have seized swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria. The Dutch and other European governments are anxious to stop Muslim citizens going off to fight with the militants and then returning home radicalised.
"It will hurt their (the Liberals') reputation and help the populists of the Left and Right, the Socialists and the Freedom Party," he said.
WOOING RIGHT-WING VOTERS
An opinion poll published on Sunday, before the resignations, had shown the Liberals recovering slightly, partly due to an improving economy, though still lagging the Freedom Party and two centrist parties.
The prime minister recently made a bid to win over right-wing voters during the main nationally televised debate of the election campaign which Wilders, a formidable public speaker, missed due to illness.
Rutte said he thought it would be better for would-be jihadis who travel to Syria to die there rather than return tothe Netherlands. Other candidates criticised his remarks but opinion polls showed Dutch voters strongly agreed with Rutte.
Even before the resignations, Rutte's party and his junior coalition partner Labour had been expected to suffer losses in the elections, which would then make it even harder to push laws through the upper house Senate.
Senators are chosen by the Netherlands' 12 provincial councils.
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