Dutch election: Vote under way in key national poll | Netherlands News

Dutch voters cast their ballots on Wednesday in a crucial legislative election, with pollsters predicting a close result and a fragmented parliament.

The vote, which has been overshadowed by a diplomatic row between The Netherlands and Turkey, has essentially come down to a tight race between Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s centre-right party and that of far-right, anti-Islam populist’s Geert Wilders.

Most polling stations were to open at 730am (06:30 GMT), although a few opened an hour earlier, and voting commencing at several polling places at train stations shortly after midnight.

An initial exit poll was expected immediately after 9pm (20:00 GMT) when the last polling stations close.

READ MORE: Dutch Muslims reflect on Geert Wilders before vote

Overall, some 13 million people are eligible to vote and 28 parties are competing for the 150 seats in the Dutch lower house of parliament.

Ahead of the vote, opinion polls showed Rutte’s liberal VVD narowly leading the race, and even if Wilders’ PVV emerges as the biggest party in parliament, it is unlikely to obtain the majority of the 150 seats enabling it to form a government. Most parties have pledged not to govern with the PVV.

Wilders has vowed to shut mosques, ban the Quran and close the country’s borders. He also wants to pull the country out of the European Union, an institution that it helped found, in a so-called Nexit.

Rutte, seeking to lead The Netherlands for a third successive term, is a liberal free-marketeer championing this year’s election on a pledge of safety and stability.

Analysts said his uncharacteristically strong stand since the weekend in a diplomatic crisis with Turkey – when Dutch authorities expelled one Turkish minister while another was refused permission to fly into the country to attend a political rally – has boosted his image with voters.

“When people look for leadership, they look to me,” Rutte told a final debate late on Tuesday.

Litmus test

Final polls released late on Tuesday appeared to show Rutte pulling away from Wilders, crediting the VVD with coming top with 24 to 28 seats.

Wilders was seen as slipping yet again and barely clinging on to second place with between 19 and 22 MPs. That would however still be well up on the 12 MPs his party has in the outgoing parliament.

The Dutch pride themselves on their consensus politics, and reportedly it takes an average of three months of hard-bargaining to cobble together a coalition. Observers predict this time round however, four or even five parties may be needed to reach the 76-seat majority.

READ MORE: Who votes for Geert Wilders?

While traditional Labour has fallen sharply this year in the polls, the left-wing GroenLinks and its charismatic young leader Jesse Klaver are enjoying a huge boost.

The 30-year-old Klaver said it was “time for a new leadership” and called for The Netherlands to welcome more refugees.

He has boosted his party in the polls, and may win 16 to 18 seats, which could place him in a powerful kingmaker role.

Following last year’s shock Brexit vote, and Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential polls, the Dutch elections are being seen as a litmus test of the strength of far-right and populist parties ahead of other polls in Europe this year, namely in France and Germany.

Is the far-right headed for victory in the Netherlands? Inside Story

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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