Dutch elections: Political leaders cast votes

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte's center-right party came first in Wednesday's parliamentary election, losing seats but beating off a challenge from far-right firebrand Geert Wilders, according to an exit poll.

The Liberal party of Dutch Prime Minister Rutte is set to win the most seats in Wednesday's elections, forcing anti-Islam firebrand Wilders into second place along with two other parties, exit polls predicted.

Wilders had pledged to close the borders to Muslim immigrants, shut mosques, ban sales of the Koran and leave the European Union, if he was elected the largest party in the parliament.

Some polls had put the Party for Freedom neck-and-neck with the centre-right People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD).

The 150 parliamentary seats are allocated in exact proportion to a party's vote share and no major party wants to be in a coalition with Mr Wilders, so it would appear he has little chance of entering government however well he performs.

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It looks as if the strong polling of Geert Wilders and the PVV party in the Netherlands has anxious the government led by the VVD party.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte clashed with his main rival anti-Islam MP Geert Wilders on Monday, as they laid out starkly opposing visions of their country's future in an election campaign now consumed by a diplomatic row with Turkey.

The anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) party appears to have lost some steam after polling at 12-15 percent in the wake of a jihadist attack that killed 12 people in a Berlin Christmas market in December.

Many voters in the Netherlands have been anxious about these Association Agreements, but so far the Dutch government of Mr Rutte has gone along with them at EU level, so they do apply to whole EU Schengen area including the Netherlands.

Today he said: "Whatever the outcome of the election today, the genie will not go back into the bottle".

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Wilders has pledged to close the borders to Muslim immigrants, shut mosques, ban sales of the Koran and leave the EU.

electionsFrom 7.30 a.m. until 9 p.m. local time the polling stations open their doors for all Dutch citizens of 18 years and older.

His Freedom Party previously led opinion polls, but recent results suggested his support has begun to decline.

The BBC's Damian Grammaticas in The Hague says that while a populist surge is still possible in Wednesday's election, a host of other parties could also do well, leaving Dutch politics fragmented.

All mainstream parties, including Rutte's VVD, had ruled out working with Wilders and his Party for Freedom. As that is far less than the 40 VVD MPs in the outgoing lower chamber Rutte would be scrambling to cobble together a viable coalition, perhaps including four or five parties to reach the 76-seat majority.

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Wilders was referring to crowds gathered outside the Turkish consulate in Rotterdam late Saturday and early Sunday who became disruptive after a Turkish minister was prevented from addressing a political rally and escorted out of the country.


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