Dilan Yesilgoz-Zegerius: The woman who could become Netherlands’ first migrant PM

She could become the first female, first immigrant and first Turkish-Kurdish Dutch PM

Dutch Justice Minister Dilan Yesilgoz-Zegerius. AFP
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As the Netherlands heads to the polls after the collapse of Mark Rutte’s party in July, his centre-right VVD has nominated Justice Minister Dilan Yesilgoz-Zegerius as its candidate in the election.

If Ms Yesilgoz-Zegerius, 46, is successful in her bid to lead the country, she will not only become the first female Dutch PM, but also the first immigrant and the first from a Turkish-Kurdish background.

The daughter of a Kurdish political refugee who fled Turkey after the country’s coup in 1980, Ms Yesilgoz-Zegerius was born in Ankara and moved to the Netherlands as an asylum seeker when she was seven.

She worked as an adviser and a council member at the Amsterdam municipality for more than a decade.

Ms Yesilgoz-Zegerius became a member of parliament for the VVD party in 2017, ascending to state secretary for economic affairs and climate in Mr Rutte’s third cabinet before becoming Justice Minister last year.

She is considered to be one of the strongest candidates in the race, but because Mr Rutte was crucial to making VVD the Netherlands’ largest party, it is not clear if his successor will maintain its position in the next election.

Ms Yesilgoz-Zegerius had held talks with coalition parties in search of an agreement over the influx of asylum seekers, which ultimately resulted in the collapse of the coalition.

She, like Mr Rutte, advocated limiting the right to family reunification for refugees from war zones, which drew criticism from socially progressive parties.

Ms Yesilgoz-Zegerius was also criticised last month for introducing a policy banning police from wearing religious items of clothing.

She defended the new rules, saying they will ensure the “neutrality of the uniform”.

“The word uniform says it all: it should always be the same with a police officer on the street,” Ms Yesilgoz-Zegerius said.

“It is sometimes said that this has to do with discrimination, but that really falls short of what this is really about: neutrality.

“The police is an inclusive organisation that is working hard to be even more inclusive … I don’t think a visible expression of a religion or belief is appropriate for officers in uniform.

"These are people who represent the government and who are mandated to use force if necessary.”

Should Ms Yesilgoz-Zegerius win November’s general election, she will be leading one of the richest countries in the world.

Problems she faces include a possible recession, high inflation and the long-term effects of the war in Ukraine.

Updated: August 01, 2023, 5:11 AM