AFP The Hague, Netherlands
Jan 23, 2017, 05.59 PM
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said people who criticise Dutch values "must act normally or leave", in his attempt to woo voters backing anti-Islamist lawmaker Geert Wilders.
Releasing his conservative liberal VVD party's campaign slogan on Monday, Rutte said there was no place for people who "dump rubbish on the streets", "harass gay people or whistle at women in short skirts".
But unlike Freedom Party's Geert Wilders, Rutte, who is aiming to win his third successful election capaign, stayed away from lumping everyone under the same bracket.
"Sometimes it seems that no one acts normally any more," he wrote in the letter, published in a full-page advertisement in two Dutch newspapers.
The Dutch elections will take place on March 15.
Rutte has a reputation of being a pragmatist in his country, unlike his rival Wilders, who in his own words once said: "Half the people of Holland love me and the other half hates me."
Wilders, buoyed by Donald Trump's success in the US and a surge in popularity in his own country -- his party are currently the favourites to win the polls this year -- has polarised opinions for his derogatory comments about Islam, refugees and mass immigration that has taken place in the last few years.
Rutte's comments during the release of the campaign statement "Act. Normally'' expectedly came under censure from Wilders, who tweeted: "The man of open borders, asylum tsunami, mass immigration, Islamisation, lies and deceit."
However, Rutte also ruled out any alliance with Wilders in the aftermath of the election results, and has posited himself as the vanguard of the liberals against the raging populism that is swirling across Europe, including his own country.
The elections will kick off a closely watched "super election" year in Europe, with far-right and populist parties seeking to upend the political landscape in countries such as France and Germany.