Netherlands: Election Will Put Euroskepticism to the Test

The result was a relief to mainstream parties across Europe, particularly in France and Germany, where right-wing nationalists hope to make a big impact in elections this year.

Up to 13 million Dutch voters are expected to head to the polls on Wednesday to elect 150 members of the lower house of parliament in a symbolic Euroscepticism showdown that seems to have split society along the immigration policy divide.

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The Dutch political landscape is very fragmented, with over 28 parties that Dutch people will be able to choose from in the 2017 elections.

The leader of the left-wing party doing best in polls ahead of Wednesday's Dutch parliamentary election says the country needs a new leader with more compassion for refugees.

For the liberal Democrat, a coalition with the borderline-theocratic Reformed Political Party would be harder, if not impossible, to accept. Euthanasia and organ donation laws it supports could be at risk. Regardless of how it performs, the party will struggle to form a government. Wilders called his opponent the "prime minister of foreigners" and said he will prioritize Dutch citizens.

The turnout is forecast at 81 percent against 74.6 percent in the last election in 2012, according to NOS.

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Polls indicate Wilders' Party for Freedom has fallen behind in the polls in the days before the election and trails Rutte. This trend has reversed over the last few weeks, however. While VVD's position has not changed since previous Peil survey published on March 5, PVV has lost three potential seats and a claim to leadership. Turnout during the last election, when there were 21 parties running, was 74.6 percent of registered voters (which is nearly all citizens of voting age in the Netherlands).

Jesse Klaver also cast his ballot in The Hague. His party is campaigning on a theme of "time for change", which has drawn support especially from younger voters.

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

"This is a fantastic result for us, a historic victory", said Green Left chairwoman Marjolein Meijer. The vote is seen as a test of the power of populist nationalism, which won key votes in Britain and the U.S.

Rutte's strong response has been praised domestically, but it could also play into Wilders' hands considering his anti-immigrant agenda.

The issues of immigration, integration and Dutch identity featured strongly, but did not completely dominate, the campaign.

  • Megan Austin