First votes cast in emotionally charged Dutch election

Mark Ross
By Mark Ross
March 15, 2017Politics
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Residents from The Hague voted on Wednesday (March 15) in a Dutch election seen as a test of nationalist feeling magnified by a furious row with Turkey.

The centre-right VVD party of Prime Minister Mark Rutte, 50, is vying with the PVV (Party for Freedom) of anti-Islam and anti-EU firebrand Geert Wilders, 53, to form the biggest party in parliament.

Wilders, who has vowed to “de-Islamise” the Netherlands, has virtually no chance of forming a government given that all the leading parties have ruled out working with him, but a PVV win would still send shockwaves across Europe.

With immigration having become one of the key issues brought to the public debate by Wilders ahead of the election, voter Niels Van Den Berg said the election was of particular importance to him given his wife, a native from Thailand, just gained Dutch citizenship and would be voting for the first time.

In a nearby shopping street, student Luce den Hond said The Netherlands should embrace its multicultural make-up.

“I like the fact that we are with more people with more cultures and that it all comes together. I am not the kind of person who says: ‘This is the Netherlands and we have to keep it like this’ because we already changed. We can’t bring something back that already changed,” den Hond said.

As many as 13 million voters like them began casting ballots at polling stations across the country that will close at 9:00 p.m.

The vote is the first gauge this year of anti-establishment sentiment in the European Union and the bloc’s chances of survival after the surprise victory of EU-skeptic Donald Trump in the United States and Britain’s 2016 vote to exit the union.

Late opinion polls indicated a three percentage point lead for the outgoing Prime Minister’s party over Wilders’, with a slight boost from a rupture of diplomatic relations with Ankara after the Dutch banned Turkish ministers from addressing rallies of overseas Turks.

“What is unique about this election is linked to the consequences of what happened between Turkey and The Netherlands. This had an impact on us who live in the Netherlands. I am happy that The Netherlands did not accept it (Turkish government officials’ wish to hold electoral meetings in the Netherlands) because what Turkey is asking the European Union and The Netherlands is unacceptable,” said Haiman Bakir, a resident of The Hague born in Turkey.

Unlike the U.S. or French presidential elections, there will be no outright Dutch winner under its system of proportional representation. Up to 15 parties could win a seat in parliament and none are set to reach even 20 percent of the vote.

Experts predict a coalition-building process that will take many months once the final tally is known.

The Hague is third largest city of the Netherlands, after Amsterdam and Rotterdam. Though not the capital of Amsterdam, the city houses the Dutch government, parliament, the Supreme Court, and the Council of State.

(REUTERS)

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