AMSTERDAM – The Dutch began casting their votes on Wednesday in elections seen as a test for anti-immigration and nationalist sentiment, magnified in recent days by a dispute with Turkey, as well as one of three polls that will measure Strength of the ties that hold the European Union together.
The VVD, center-right party of Prime Minister Mark Rutte, is battling for leadership in Parliament with the PVV (Freedom Party) of the Islamophobic and Euro-Phobic agitator Geert Wilders.
About 13 million voters are called to cast their vote in the polls throughout the country, which will close at 09:00 pm.
«I will vote for Wilders. I hope I can make a change that will improve the Netherlands,» said Wendy de Graaf while leaving his children at a school in The Hague. «I do not agree with everything he says … but I think immigration is a problem.»
Wilders, who has promised to «demystify» the Netherlands, has virtually no chance to form a government, since all major parties have ruled out working with him, but a victory of the PVV could trigger a political earthquake across the continent.
The Dutch elections are the first of the three to be held this year and are considered as a review of the sentiment against the institutions in the European Union and the chances of survival of the community bloc following the victory of the Eurosceptic Donald Trump in the United States and the British decision to leave the EU in a referendum held in 2016.
France will elect its next president in the spring in which elections for right-wing Marine Le Pen are likely to reach the second round in May. Meanwhile, the right-wing Eurosceptic Party for Germany, which has sharply criticized the open-door policy of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s refugees, is likely to win its first seats in the lower house of the German parliament in the September elections.
In the Netherlands, opinion polls gave Rerstein a three-percentage-point advantage over Wilders but did not fully consider the breakdown of diplomatic relations with Ankara after the Dutch banned Turkish ministers from participating in rallies With whom they intended to address Turkish residents abroad.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan accused the Dutch of acting as Nazis.
Early indications were that the dispute could have boosted both candidates.
NO CLEAR WINNER, WEEKS OF NEGOTIATIONS
Unlike in the US or French presidential elections, there will be no undisputed winner in the Netherlands, as up to 15 parties have a realistic chance of holding seats in parliament and are expected to be no more than 20 percent of the seats.
Rutte’s last government was a two-party coalition along with the Labor Party, but now it could take even four parties to secure a majority in the House. It would be the first alliance of several parties since the seventies. Two of the three alliances formed then dissolved within 12 months.
Political risk analysts at the Eurasia Group said government formation would likely be time consuming and could result in a weak coalition that would determine EU policy at a critical time for the bloc.
Rutte, who hopes that the Dutch economic recovery will cement his victory, has insisted he will not accept the PVV as a coalition partner or rely on Wilders to support a minority government, as it did between 2010 and 2012.
The prime minister accused Wilders of treason for withdrawing his support and creating a political crisis in a time of deep economic problems.
«I will not work with such a party, Mr. Wilders, neither within the Government nor with its external support. No, never, no,» Rutte told Wilders in the only televised debate between the two, which saw Monday 2.28 million viewers , A record with respect to any other rallies celebrated.