Thursday 21 September 2017

Voting under way in Netherlands election

People walk during the election day in Amsterdam, Netherlands March 15, 2017. REUTERS/Cris Toala Olivares TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
People walk during the election day in Amsterdam, Netherlands March 15, 2017. REUTERS/Cris Toala Olivares TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

Polling booths have opened across the Netherlands in parliamentary elections.

The election is being closely watched as a possible indicator of the strength of far-right populism ahead of national votes in France and Germany later this year.

Two-term prime minister Mark Rutte's right-wing VVD party was leading in polls ahead of the Dutch vote, with the anti-Islam Party for Freedom of firebrand politician Geert Wilders a close second.

Mr Rutte has framed the election as a choice between continuity and chaos, portraying himself as a safe custodian of the nation of 17 million's economic recovery, while casting Mr Wilders as a far-right radical who would not be prepared to take tough decisions were he to gain office.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte casts his vote for the Dutch general election in The Hague, Netherlands, Wednesday, March 15, 2017. (AP Photo/Patrick Post)
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte casts his vote for the Dutch general election in The Hague, Netherlands, Wednesday, March 15, 2017. (AP Photo/Patrick Post)

The chance of Mr Wilders becoming leader in the country where the proportional representation voting system all but guarantees coalition governments is small - all mainstream parties, including Mr Rutte's VVD, have ruled out working with Mr Wilders.

Mr Wilders's one-page election manifesto includes pledges to de-Islamise the Netherlands by closing the borders to immigrants from Muslim nations, closing mosques and banning the Koran, as well as taking the Netherlands out of the European Union.

The final days of campaigning were overshadowed by a diplomatic crisis between the Dutch and Turkish governments over the refusal of the Netherlands to let two Turkish government ministers address rallies about a constitutional reform referendum next month that could give President Recep Tayyip Erdogan more powers.

It showed Mr Rutte as refusing to bow to pressure from outside, a stance which has widespread backing in the nation.

"It is my task to keep the nation safe and stable and deal with these kind of people," said Mr Rutte.

The 12.9 million Dutch voters can cast their ballots until 9pm. They have plenty to choose from - there are 28 parties fielding candidates in the splintered political landscape.

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