Voting underway in Netherlands election

The Dutch are at the polls in a parliamentary election overshadowed by a diplomatic row with Turkey. Prime Minister Mark Rutte and rival anti-EU party leader Geert Wilders have already cast their votes.

Photo by: AP
Photo by: AP

People cast their ballots in the Dutch general election at a polling station in The Hague, Netherlands, Wednesday, March 15, 2017.

Dutch voters went to the polls on Wednesday to vote in a legislative election after a campaign dominated by conservative Prime Minister Mark Rutte and far-right MP Geert Wilders.

Rutte cast his vote at Wolters School in Utenbroekestraat 2, while Wilders voted at Basisschool De Walvis in The Hague.

The election is being seen as a test of anti-establishment and anti-immigrant sentiment. It also comes as the Netherlands and Turkey spar over Dutch treatment of Turkish politicians and expatriates.

Polling stations across the country opened at 0630 GMT and will close at 2000 GMT.

Up to 13 million voters will determine which of the 28 parties will win the most parliamentary seats.​

TRT World's Simon McGregor-Wood brings more from the The Hague.

Netherlands staying right or heading to the far right?

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

Rutte has framed the vote as a choice between continuity and chaos, portraying himself as a safe custodian of the Netherlands' economy. He has cast Wilders as a far-right radical who would not be prepared to make tough decisions were he to gain office.

On Monday, Rutte said there was a real possibility that Wilders could win the parliamentary election on Wednesday.

However, he called on Dutch voters to stop ''the wrong populism'' at the polls.

He has been highlighting the country's economic growth and stability during his six years at the helm.

"When people look for leadership, they look to me," Rutte said at a final debate late Tuesday.

Wilders was seen as slipping, barely clinging on to second place with between 19 and 22 MPs, well up on the 12 MPs his Freedom Party (PVV) had before.

He has vowed to close the borders to Muslim immigrants, shut mosques and ban sales of the Koran.

He also wants to pull the country out of the EU in a so-called "Nexit."

Dutch voters outside a polling station at The Hague, Netherlands, on March 15, 2017.

Snapping at the heels of Wilders are long-standing Dutch parties such as the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA), credited with 19 to 21 seats, and the Democracy Party (D66) with around 17 to 19 MPs, polls showed.

Both the CDA and D66 would be natural coalition partners for Rutte, who like most Dutch parties, has refused to work with Wilders.

The Netherlands uses a model of consensual stability in which the party that gets the most votes traditionally oversees coalition talks.

The Netherlands was an EU founding member states and is among its most prosperous. But the consensus model could fray if no party secures a clear mandate to lead, a trend seen in other EU countries as eurosceptic populist movements have scooped up voters disenchanted by "establishment" parties.

For insight into how the polls might play, TRT World spoke to Carolien van Ham, a political scientist at Australia's University of New South Wales in Sydney.

Turkey's unintended role

Turkey played an unintended role in the final days of campaigning in the Netherlands when two visiting politicians were barred from meeting Turkish expatriates ahead of an April 16 referendum on extending presidential powers in Turkey.

Ankara's emissaries want to meet Turkish nationals ahead of the referendum, but a barrage of criticism and blocks on campaigning in several European countries has unleashed a dispute that is threatening ties not only on a bilateral basis but more broadly between Turkey and Europe as a whole.

TRTWorld and agencies