Rotterdam (Netherlands), Mar 13 (AFP) Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte today urged The Netherlands to be the first country to stop what he called “the wrong sort of populism” which is on the rise in Europe.

“I want the Netherlands to be the first country which stops this trend of the wrong sort of populism,” Rutte told reporters, ahead of a head-to-head debate clash with his rival anti-Islam MP Geert Wilders.

If Wilders wins Wednesday’s general elections that “would send a signal to the rest of the world”, he said.

Rutte is bidding for a third term, but faces a strong challenge from Wilders and his Freedom Party (PVV).

The outgoing prime minister repeated his pledge that he and his Liberal VVD party would not work with Wilders and his Freedom Party (PVV) “but he still would be able to form a new government” in coalition talks.

He acknowledged that the country’s elections were being closely watched amid concerns about the rise of far-right and populist parties in Europe with other national elections due later in the year.

“You could say these are the quarter finals in trying to prevent the wrong sort of populism to win. The half finals are in France in April and May and then in September in Germany you have the finals,” Rutte said, speaking in English.

The stakes are high, with Rutte’s Liberals (VVD) predicted to return as the largest party in the 150-seat parliament with between 23 to 27 seats, according to the latest aggregated polls.

After weeks of flirting at the top of the polls, Wilders has seen his ratings slip and may now come second with between 19 and 23 seats, polls suggest. (AFP)

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.