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Dutch begin voting in election, testing anti-establishment mood

Voters have started making their way to the polls in the Netherlands in the first of three crucial eurozone elections this year

15 March 2017, 7:59am
Polling stations across the country opened at 7:30am and will close at 9:00pm
Polling stations across the country opened at 7:30am and will close at 9:00pm
The Dutch began voting on Wednesday in an election seen as a test of anti-establishment and anti-immigrant sentiment in the middle of a fiery dispute with Turkey and at a time of doubts about the future of the European Union.le

Up to 13 million people are eligible to vote and 28 parties are competing for the 150 seats in the Dutch lower house of parliament.

Polling stations across the country opened at 7:30am and will close at 9:00pm.

An initial exit poll was expected immediately after polling stations close.

Polls showed the centre-right VVD of Prime Minister Mark Rutte with a small lead over the PVV (Party for Freedom) of anti-Islam and anti-EU firebrand Geert Wilders.

Rutte, seeking to lead The Netherlands for a third successive term, is a liberal free-marketeer championing this year's election on a pledge of safety and stability.

Wilders has vowed to shut mosques, ban the Quran and close the country's borders. He also wants to pull the country out of the European Union, an institution that it helped found, in a so-called Nexit.

The Dutch pride themselves on their consensus politics, and reportedly it takes an average of three months of hard-bargaining to cobble together a coalition. Observers predict this time round however, four or even five parties may be needed to reach the 76-seat majority.

Following last year's historic Brexit referendum, and Donald Trump's victory in the US presidential polls, the Dutch elections are being seen as a litmus test of the strength of far-right and populist parties ahead of other polls in Europe this year, namely in France and Germany.

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