Dutch voters head to polls as divisive elections kick off in Netherlands

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, right, and right-wing populist leader Geert Wilders, arrive for a national televised debate, the first head-to-head meeting of the two political party leaders since the start of the election campaign, at Erasmus University in Rotterdam, Netherlands, Monday, March 13, 2017.

Rutte has said the election is an opportunity for voters to "beat the wrong sort of populism". while Wilders has pledged to take the Netherlands out of the European Union, close all mosques and ban the Koran.His Freedom Party had been leading in opinion polls but they have since suggested his support may be slipping as I had previously highlighted at the week-end.

They have have been gradually losing support for the past 20 years. But it is a clear ideology that addresses concerns of a substantial group of the Dutch. "The PVV is Wilders. the party is not organized in such a way as to revolt", Vossen said. Wilders, who has said he would bar immigrants to the Netherlands from Muslim countries, says that he has already won the election because on policies "everyone is moving toward us".

A coalition is inevitable given there are 28 parties to choose from and few political leaders want to sit at the table with a man who wants to close mosques and ban the Koran. "I call him 'Geert Trump.' He does what the others don't want to do - for the people". While they have no statistics on how many did, they believe that private initiatives to counter populism have popped up thanks to them.

Since splitting with the right-wing People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (known by its acronym VVD) in 2004, Wilders has been a consistent figure in Dutch politics, and his Party For Freedom came in third in the 2010 election.

Final polls released late on Tuesday appeared to show Rutte pulling away from Wilders, crediting the VVD with coming top with 24 to 28 seats.

Even if the Party for Freedom were to pull off an upset, Wilders would likely not become prime minister.

"Don't do it. I sincerely hope you're not going to be the biggest (party), that you won't form a cabinet, I will put up a tough fight".

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The prime minister accuses Wilders of treachery for withdrawing support and creating a political crisis at a time of deep economic troubles.

Rutte has been plunged into a diplomatic storm in the days leading up to Wednesday's election, with Turkey unleashing a stream of invective against the Netherlands after the government banned two Turkish ministers from addressing weekend rallies in Rotterdam to promote a referendum on constitutional reform that would give President Recep Tayyip Erdogan more powers.

Although Geert Wilders' PVV party has been losing ground despite a long run of impressive opinion poll showings, the fact that he is still in the lead is shocking to those who find his firebrand xenophobia unacceptable.

Telling Wilders he was making "extreme statements" about Moroccan-Dutch citizens, Rutte insisted: "I will not co-operate with such a party". Polls have shown a tight race for first place between Rutte and Wilders, but Rutte's party is now projected to win the highest number of seats.

The process of government formation could take a few months.

Rutte has tried to move further right in recent months to appeal to more voters.

Investors have yet to show nervousness about increased volatility or a negative fallout on the AAA-rated economy as a result of the election.

The vote is the first of three this year seen as a test 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.


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