Dutch vote in tight race to pick a new prime minister
A weighted poll published on the eve of the vote showed anti-Islam firebrand Geert Wilders' Freedom Party tied for the lead with the conservative People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) of outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte, followed closely by a joint Labour/Green ticket. Only one thing is certain: the Netherlands will get its first new prime minister in over a decade, after Rutte resigned in July as his fourth coalition government collapsed, ending a 13-year tenure.
Dutch voters cast their ballots on Wednesday in a nail-biting election in which opinion polls show at least three parties - including the far-right - could hope for the top spot, with no clear leader having emerged. A weighted poll published on the eve of the vote showed anti-Islam firebrand Geert Wilders' Freedom Party tied for the lead with the conservative People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) of outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte, followed closely by a joint Labour/Green ticket.
Only one thing is certain: the Netherlands will get its first new prime minister in over a decade, after Rutte resigned in July as his fourth coalition government collapsed, ending a 13-year tenure. Restricting immigration - the issue that triggered the collapse of Rutte's last cabinet - has been a key issue in the campaign.
"It's been enough now. The Netherlands can't take it anymore. We have to think about our own people first now. Borders closed. Zero asylum seekers," Wilders said in a television debate late on Tuesday. Justice Minister Dilan Yesilgoz, a Turkish immigrant tough on immigration and Rutte's successor at the helm of the VVD, who is hoping to become the country's first woman prime minister, responded:
"I don't think anyone believes Wilders would be a prime minister for all. He's all about closing borders, excluding groups who he feels don't belong in the Netherlands." At stake is also whether voters in one of Europe's most prosperous countries are willing to continue funding climate policies, such as an expensive rollout of offshore wind farms amid a cost-of-living shock across the continent.
No party is on track to take more than 20% of the vote, and with late polls showing Labour leader Frans Timmermans and Wilders making gains, many scenarios are possible. Voting booths opened at 7:30 a.m. (0630 GMT) and will close at 9 p.m. (2000 GMT), when national broadcaster NOS publishes its first exit poll.
IMMIGRATION, CLIMATE CHANGE A first-place finish for Wilders could lead the Netherlands to a hard-right coalition with a strong anti-immigration line, even though he has been seeking to soften his image in the hope of entering government.
If Timmermans is better placed, this could swing the next government toward the centre and more spending on climate policies. Lawmaker Pieter Omtzigt, a centrist who founded his own party after breaking with the Christian Democrats, is trailing slightly behind the three in the latest polls.
Protracted coalition talks are likely in any case, very much in line with tradition in The Netherlands. The party that wins the most seats traditionally takes a lead in negotiations and provides the prime minister, but even that is not guaranteed under the Dutch system.
With the Netherlands a founding member of the EU, and Rutte a key operator in EU summits, fellow leaders will also be scrutinising the outcome as parties on the right have suggested seeking exemptions from the bloc's rules on agriculture and immigration. A hard-right coalition could also soften plans to reduce livestock and fertilizer use, which are strongly opposed by farmers.
A more centrist coalition would likely continue a build-out of renewable energy, notably wind farms in the North Sea, follow through on plans to cut livestock, and increase social spending, including raising the minimum wage. Rutte will remain in a caretaker role until a new government is installed, likely in the first half of 2024.
(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)