Polling stations opened across the Netherlands Wednesday for elections dominated by Europe's economic woes and led by the centre-right liberal party with its plans to slash public spending.
The PVV led in opinion polls just a few months ago, but its main campaign issue, to stop the "Islamisation of the Netherlands", has been eclipsed by budget concerns amid Europe's economic downturn.
This article was prepared by the Islam in Europe blog - islamineurope.blogspot.com
Pollsters on Tuesday night predicted the VVD centre-right liberal party to get about 34 seats, up from 21 currently -- putting leader Mark Rutte, 43, in line to become the first prime minister from a Dutch liberal party since World War I.
The PvdA Labour party led by Amsterdam's ex-mayor, 62-year-old Job Cohen, was put second with 30 seats, down from 33.
Third placed is the Christian Democratic CDA of outgoing premier Jan Peter Balkenende, 54, with 24 seats -- down from 41.
The Party for Freedom (PVV) of anti-Islam MP Geert Wilders, 46, is polled fourth with 18 seats, double its current nine.
I'll be updating with various news stories throughout the day.
Wilders in the coalition?
A couple of days ago Mark Rutte said he would consider having Geert Wilders in his coalition. His party, the VVD, later said that it's impossible. Due to disagreements on increasing the retirement age, Rutte said this morning that he would not be able to have either the PVV or CDA (Christian democrats) in his coalition.
Along with aggressive spending cuts, Rutte's platform is almost as tough on crime and immigration as that of Wilders' Freedom Party — for instance, making immigrants ineligible for unemployment compensation for the first 10 years after they arrive.
Wilders is known for his film "Fitna," which offended many Muslims by linking Islam and violence. He is facing criminal prosecution under Dutch hate speech laws for comparing Islam to Naziism and calling for a ban on the Quran.
Rutte's rise has left Wilders struggling to stand out.
Earlier this week, Wilders released calculations he says show that nonwestern immigrants are a euro7 billion ($8.6 billion) annual drag on the Dutch budget because of higher criminality and unemployment rates.
But his economic platform drew groans and laughter at Wednesday's debate for its single-minded focus on immigration. Health care costs, for example, can be cut by denying medical care to children of illegal immigrants.
Religious leaders voting together
Two rabbis, an Anglican priest, the secretary of the Protest Church, two imams, a representative of the Council of Churches, a pandit (representative of the Dutch Hindu Council) and a Buddhist representative voted together (NL) in Utrecht. (see also here)
The PVV won big in the the secondary schools mock elections, getting 30 seats, according to the Dutch Centre for Political Participation. In 386 schools, 91,263 of 177,723 students (51%) voted via internet. VVD got 28 seats, PvdA 25.
In 2006 the PVV got 9 seats in the real elections, and 16 in the mock elections.
Elementary schools gave the PvdA 24 seats, followed by GroenLinks with 22 and the Party for the Animals with 21.