Dutch voters go to the polls; early indications show poor performance for anti-Islam politician - latimes
Voters in the Netherlands headed to the polls Wednesday in a closely watched election that is being seen as a key barometer of the political mood in Europe and strength of the far right.
The contest is the first of three crucial elections taking place in the continent this year — ahead of France in April and May and Germany in September.
It comes after the British referendum decision last June to leave the European Union, which encouraged those with nationalist and anti-immigration sentiments and has raised questions about the long-term viability of the 28-member bloc.
Previous Dutch elections have not attracted as much attention as this one, but many observers around the world have their eyes on the outcome to see if Europe will swing right, despite its fraught history fighting fascism.
After voting ended Wednesday, the country’s main exit poll suggested that anti-Islam firebrand Geert Wilders had an unexpectedly poor showing, the Associated Press reported.
The race has been bitter and divisive with immigration dominating the discourse.
During the final televised debate of the campaign Tuesday evening, more than 3 million people tuned in to hear the main candidates thrash it out.
In one particularly heated exchange, Deputy Prime MinisterLodewijk Asscher of the Labor party attempted to defend the rights of law-abiding Muslims who live in Holland.
"The Netherlands belongs to all of us, and everyone who does his best," he said.
But Wilders retorted: "The Netherlands is not for everyone. The Netherlands is for the Dutch."
Wilders' main opponent is Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the center-right People's Party for Freedom and Democracy, who has been in power since 2010.
After casting his vote Wednesday, Rutte urged people to try to imagine the global reaction if the Freedom Party secured the largest percentage of votes. - Read More