Election: Right or left? The Netherlands elects a new government

With one in five voters still undecided, the Netherlands goes to the polls on Wednesday to elect a new 150-seat lower house of parliament.

The previous administration collapsed in April after the anti-immigration PVV pulled out of austerity talks designed to meet eurozone single currency rules.
A handful of polling stations at train stations were opened at 06.00 for early commuters to cast their votes. In total 12,696,193 people over the age of 18 can vote at one of 10,000 or so polling stations manned by 40,000 volunteers with 120,000 red pencils;
There are polling stations at 40 train stations, at Schiphol airport, in churches and even in department stores. A fire station in Rotterdam and Sparta football club also have ballot boxes.
Opinion polls on Tuesday said it would be a close finish between the VVD and Labour party (PvdA) with three predicting a one seat margin for the right-wing Liberals.
That would probably mean a second term in office for prime minister Mark Rutte, although the coalition-building process after the vote is likely to be a long process.

Fragmented system

In total 21 parties are taking part in the election and 10 or 11 of them are likely to win seats in parliament. The highly-fragmented Dutch system means coalitions are inevitable, and this year more than three parties may be needed to form a stable administration.
Europe was a central issue in the campaign, but despite Dutch doubts about Brussels, the anti-EU campaign mounted by Geert Wilders’ PVV failed to make much impact. His party is set to lose up to 25% of its support in the vote.
The Netherlands is a trading nation and sends most of its exports to other EU countries. Pundits predict the cabinet which emerges after what will probably be several months of negotiating will be pro-Europe but will also try to set limits on Brussels’ involvement in what are considered domestic affairs.
The future of the generous Dutch mortgage tax relief system, dealing with the budget deficit and how to cut healthcare spending have also been major issues.
Mark Rutte has pledged that the current tax break on mortgages will remain and wants to comply with eurozone budget deficit rules next year. Labour leader Diederik Samsom wants changes to the tax break and takes a slower approach to meeting eurozone targets.
The polling booths are open until 21.00, at which point the counting begins and news broadcasters will publish their exit polls. In order to win a seat, a party needs to get around 65,000 votes – or the total number of votes cast divided by 150.
Manifesto summaries in English

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