In Depth

Europe watches on as Dutch voters go to the polls

Mark Rutte expected to lead next coalition – but has far-right politician Geert Wilders really won the battle?

Voters in the Netherlands head to the polls today to vote in an election seen as a litmus test for the rise of far-right and populist parties in Europe.

Campaigning has highlighted the growth of populism, with anti-Islam far-right politician Geert Wilders and his PVV party dominating the agenda.

"The Dutch vote is the first of several critical European elections this year, to be followed by those in France, Germany and possibly Italy," says the New York Times.

Wilders has been neck-and-neck with incumbent Prime Minister Mark Rutte, although the latest polls suggest the VVD leader might edge ahead.

With as many as 28 parties fielding candidates, it is highly unlikely any party will reach the 76 seats needed for a majority, meaning four or five will need to come together to form a coalition.

However, even if Wilders's PVV gets a high percentage of votes, it is unlikely to make it into government as all the major parties have ruled out collaborating with him.

Nevertheless, his "high profile and often inflammatory presence had moved much of the political debate to the far right's turf. The battle in many ways is already won," says the New York Times.

Rutte has already been accused of pandering to right-wing voters after he published an open letter telling immigrants to leave if they did not respect Dutch values.

"The extreme likelihood is that Rutte… will remain as PM under a coalition of various parties," predicts Stephen Bush in the New Statesman.

Analysts believe the diplomatic spat between the Netherlands and Turkey has also given the PM a timely boost.

Andre Krouwel, a political scientist at Amsterdam's Free University, told The Guardian the row "allowed Rutte to show himself as a statesman – and to send a Turkish minister packing".

He added: "What better publicity could a politician want a few days before an election? Rutte was able to show he could actually expel Turks, and to tell Wilders, 'You're just sitting there, tweeting'… This has won Rutte the election."

Infographic by www.statista.com for TheWeek.co.uk.

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