Dutch voters cast their ballots on Wednesday in a dramatic election in which opinion polls show at least three parties – including the far right – could hope to take the lead, with no clear leader emerging.
An opinion poll published on the eve of the vote showed Geert Wilders’s anti-Islam Freedom Party tied with the conservative People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy led by outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte, closely followed by the Labor/Joint Labor Party. Green ticket.
One thing is certain: The Netherlands will have its first new prime minister in more than a decade, after Rutte resigned in July as his fourth coalition government collapsed, ending a 13-year term.
Restricting immigration – the issue that led to the collapse of Rutte’s last government – was a major issue in the campaign.
“It has been enough now. The Netherlands cannot take any more. We have to think about our people first now. The borders are closed. There are no asylum seekers,” Wilders said in a television debate late on Tuesday evening.
Justice Minister Dilan Yesilgoz, a Turkish émigré who is a hardliner on immigration and Rutte’s successor at the head of the VVD, who hopes to become the country’s first female prime minister, responded:
“I don’t think anyone believes that Wilders will be a prime minister for everyone. All he cares about is closing the borders and excluding groups that he feels do not belong in the Netherlands.”
Also at stake is whether voters in one of Europe’s most prosperous countries are willing to continue funding climate policies, such as the pricey start-up of offshore wind farms amid a cost-of-living shock across the continent.
No party is on track to get more than 20% of the vote, and with recent polls showing Labor leader Frans Timmermans and Wilders making gains, several scenarios are possible.
Voting booths opened at 7.30 a.m. and will close at 9 p.m., when national broadcaster NOS will publish the first exit poll.
Wilders’ first-place finish in the Netherlands could lead to a hard-right coalition with a strong anti-immigration streak, although he has been seeking to improve his image in the hope of entering government.
If Timmermans is better off, it could push the next government toward the center and increase spending on climate policies.
MP Peter Omtsigt, a centrist who founded his party after splitting from the Christian Democrats, is slightly behind the three in the latest opinion polls.
In any case, coalition talks are likely to drag on, which is very much in keeping with tradition in the Netherlands.
The party that wins the most seats usually takes the lead in negotiations and takes over as prime minister, but even this is not guaranteed under the Dutch system.
Since the Netherlands is a founding member of the European Union, and Mr. Rutte is a key player at EU summits, leaders will also examine the outcome as right-wing parties proposed seeking exemptions to the bloc’s rules on agriculture and immigration.
A hard-right coalition could also ease plans to limit the use of livestock and fertilizer, which farmers strongly oppose.
A more centrist coalition is likely to continue building renewable energy, especially wind farms in the North Sea, pursue plans to cut livestock, and increase social spending, including raising the minimum wage.
Rutte will remain in the caretaker position until a new government is formed, likely in the first half of 2024. – Reuters
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