Netherlands vote: Rutte set to win fourth term as prime minister | News on the coronavirus pandemic

Dutch voters are flocking to polling stations for the third and final day of an election dominated by the coronavirus crisis, which is expected to bring Prime Minister Mark Rutte back to power for a fourth term.

The two most recent polls, conducted after voting began on Monday, showed that Rutte’s center-right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, or VVD, had garnered around 25 percent of the vote.

This would see the VVD gain between 34 and 36 seats in the 150-seat parliament.

Rutte had been well ahead of the opinion polls for about a year, but his lead has narrowed in recent weeks.

The Freedom Party, led by anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and far-right lawmaker Geert Wilders, could come second.

Like the center-left party D-66, a junior member of Rutte’s interim coalition led by Sigrid Kaag, the Freedom Party is expected to get 12-14% of the vote, meaning it could win between 18 and 20 seats.

Around 13 million voters can choose from dozens of contending parties.

The first exit poll is expected shortly after voting ends at 9 p.m. (8 p.m. GMT).

By voting, Rutte ruled out the possibility of a coalition with Wilders’ Freedom Party.

“Yes, we ruled out Geert Wilders’ party because of what he said about Moroccans in the Netherlands, who are mostly Dutch at the moment, and for some of the things he said about the Islam and the Koran, ”he told reporters. . “And I ruled out the Forum for Democracy because of some of the things its leader has done in terms of anti-Semitism and racism.”

As Wilders arrived at a polling station in The Hague, he said: “I don’t blame our government, of course, for the virus, but I blame them for not being sufficiently prepared. So people are actually concerned about that, but they are also concerned about the normal routine life, you know, not only the economy, but also Islam or immigration.

“This is an issue that has been on the agenda in the Netherlands for a very long time. And it’s not gone now because there is a pandemic. “

Vulnerable groups and the elderly, who were given expanded postal and proxy voting options, were encouraged to vote the first two days, followed by the general public on Wednesday.

If Rutte wins the largest share of the vote, he will be the first to lead talks to form the next ruling coalition. Negotiations are likely to be a long and difficult process.

If Rutte succeeds, he could become the longest-serving prime minister in the country.

The 54-year-old first took office in October 2010. His popularity soared last year as he led his country through the pandemic, which has killed more than 16,000 people in the Netherlands. Down and plunged the prosperous nation of just over 17 million people into a recession.

But support for him has waned as public support for a months-long lockdown waned and his government resigned following a scandal involving tax officials falsely labeling thousands of families – including many ethnic minorities – fraudsters, leaving its administration in interim mode.

Police in The Hague on Sunday broke up a demonstration of thousands protesting the lockdown and a nighttime curfew, the imposition of which sparked several days of riots in January.

With the curfew and the ban on public gatherings in place as infection rates remained high, the pre-election campaign unfolded in televised debates.

The final debate, which took place on Tuesday, saw Rutte and the leaders of the other seven biggest parties clash in a last-ditch attempt to woo voters.

“What are you doing here again?” Wilders asked Rutte. “Why don’t you just step back and let someone else take over?” We cannot let the arsonist put out the fire in the Netherlands.

Rutte, for his part, said he “was trying to govern under difficult circumstances”.

“I have been taking responsibility for 10 years,” he said.

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