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Mark Rutte

Dutch voters are going to the polls in the first of three crucial eurozone elections in 2017.

The race is dominated by PM Mark Rutte’s center-right party and Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party, running on an anti-immigration platform.

Mark Rutte has said the election is an opportunity for voters to “beat the wrong sort of populism”.

Geert Wilders has pledged to take the Netherlands out of the EU, close all mosques and ban the Koran.

His party had been leading in opinion polls but they have since suggested his support may be slipping.

Voter turnout so far has been high, with turnout at midday at 33%, compared to 27% at the last election in 2012, Reuters reports.

Image source Getty Images

France goes to the polls next month to elect a new president while Germany is due to hold a general election in September.

March 15election also comes amid a diplomatic spat between the Netherlands and Turkey.

Geert Wilders declared after casting his vote: “Whatever the outcome of the elections today, the genie will not go back into the bottle and this patriotic revolution – whether today or tomorrow – will take place.”

Protracted coalition talks are the likely outcome.

After casting his vote, PM Mark Rutte asked his fellow citizens to imagine how the world would react if the Freedom Party came first.

“I think the rest of the world will then see that after Brexit, after the American elections, again the wrong sort of populism has won the day,” he said.

Earlier, in TV debates, Mark Rutte and Geert Wilders clashed over how to stem immigration.

Mark Rutte dismissed Geert Wilders’s plan to close borders and mosques and to ban the Koran as “fake solutions”.

Geert Wilders accused Mark Rutte of providing better healthcare for immigrants than for the Dutch themselves.

Lodewijk Asscher of the Labor Party, the junior party in Mark Rutte’s coalition, called Geert Wilders a man of “10,000 angry tweets and no solutions”.

Several of the smaller party leaders are being seen as potential power-brokers.

Seven of the 28 parties running could win more than 10 seats in the 150-seat parliament, the polls suggest.

Christian Democrat Sybrand Buma and liberal Alexander Pechtold might go into coalition in the event of Mark Rutte’s victory.

However, other parties could end up as king-makers too, such as the Green-Left under Jesse Klaver and the Socialist party.

None are likely to take part in a coalition with Geert Wilders.

All of the parties forecast to win 10 seats or more are led by men yet women made up more than a third of MPs in the outgoing parliament (58 out of 150).

In the past, the Green-Left was regularly led by a woman, including Femke Halsema, who held the post for more than eight years (2002-2010).

Now only some of the very small parties have female leaders: Sylvana Simons from Article One (which campaigns against discrimination) and Marianne Thieme from Party for the Animals.


According to Dutch PM Mark Rutte, sending out an international military force to secure the site of the downed Malaysian Airlines jet in eastern Ukraine is “unrealistic”.

The site is currently controlled by pro-Russia rebels who have been accused of shooting down flight MH17.

All 298 people on board – most of them Dutch – died.

In the latest fighting in the area, 13 people were killed as troops try to seize Horlivka from the rebels.

Separately, the US has released images to back its claim of Russian firing into Ukraine.

The images, showing marks on the ground and impact craters, suggest fire from multiple rocket launchers, the US state department says.

Dutch PM Mark Rutte says sending out an international military force to secure the site of the downed Malaysian Airlines jet in eastern Ukraine is unrealistic

Dutch PM Mark Rutte says sending out an international military force to secure the site of the downed Malaysian Airlines jet in eastern Ukraine is unrealistic

The pictures also indicate the separatists are using heavy artillery supplied by Russia, it added.

Russia denies supplying the rebels with heavy weaponry or firing across the frontier with Ukraine.

The rebels have been accused of shooting flight MH17 down by mistake, but Russia blames the Ukrainian military, an allegation Ukraine denies.

The crash site has yet to be properly investigated and some bodies have still not been recovered. An international push is under way to get the site secured.

However, Mark Rutte, speaking to reporters in The Hague, said: “Getting the military upper hand for an international mission in this area is, according to our conclusion, not realistic.”

He said it would be “such a provocation to the separatists that it could destabilize the situation”.

Mark Rutte said all options were being looked at. The Netherlands, Australia and Malaysia had been considering a joint operation.

Dutch experts on Sunday cancelled plans to head to the site after international officials said fighting in the region was still going on.

“We can’t take the risk,” said Alexander Hug, of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

There are still plans for Australia and the Netherlands to deploy 49 police officers, following a deal struck by Malaysia with the rebels to allow international police at the site.

“Our objective is to get in, get cracking and to get out,” Australian PM Tony Abbott said.

The eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk have been gripped by heavy fighting as government forces try to retake rebel strongholds.

Aside from the fighting in Horlivka, shelling was also reported close to the MH17 crash site, near the town of Grabove, on Sunday.

Rebels have prevented journalists going to the site and Ukrainian government forces are said to be nearby.

A total of 227 coffins containing the remains of the victims have been sent for identification to the Netherlands, which is leading the crash investigation.

The first MH17 victim has been identified, though officials did not reveal any details.

Officials say the exact number of bodies already collected will be determined only after forensic experts have completed their examination.

Russia said on Sunday it had set up its own team of experts to investigate the plane crash, according to RIA Novosti agency.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte has presented his government’s resignation to Queen Beatrix of Neatherlands, paving the way for early elections.

Dutch government was plunged into crisis when Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party (PVV) quit talks aimed at slicing 16 billion Euros from the budget.

Geert Wilders said he would not accept austerity demands to bring the budget deficit in line with EU rules.

His party was not part of the coalition but supported the minority government.

Dutch broadcaster Nos said Mark Rutte spent almost two hours on Monday afternoon at the queen’s palace in The Hague where he made the cabinet’s resignation official.

Speaking after a cabinet meeting in the morning involving Mark Rutte’s liberal VVD and the Christian Democrats (CDA), Finance Minister Jan Kees de Jager said they would “show the financial market and Dutch people that we can also put forward a solid financial policy”.

Since 5 March, the two coalition parties along with the Freedom Party have been trying to reach agreement on budget cuts. A recent forecast from the Netherlands’ Central Planning Bureau estimated that the country’s 2013 public deficit would raise to 4.7% of GDP, well above the 3% EU target.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte has presented his government's resignation to Queen Beatrix of Neatherlands

Prime Minister Mark Rutte has presented his government's resignation to Queen Beatrix of Neatherlands

The Netherlands has been asked to submit its budget measures to the European Commission by 30 April, although it is not clear how firm that deadline is.

Geert Wilders said the coalition’s proposals would harm economic growth and affect many people’s spending power. Socialist Party leader Emile Roemer said he too was not prepared to support the attempt to bring the budget deficit below 3% by 2013.

But there are fears that the failure of the budget talks could harm the Netherlands’ prized AAA credit rating status and the low yield on government bonds.

If the Netherlands cannot balance its books without the government collapsing, then which government can; and where it leaves the EU fiscal compact, aimed at enforcing budget discipline.

Economic Affairs Minister and CDA leader Maxime Verhagen said on his Twitter feed earlier on Monday that the main concern was “how, on the way to elections, we can keep the economy and finances on the rails”.

Dutch daily NRC Handelsblad reported that confidence in the Netherlands had already fallen on the financial markets on Monday, with the gap widening between Dutch and German government bonds.

Mark Rutte’s government lasted just 558 days. Only three other Dutch administrations since World War II have been in office for shorter periods, Dutch news agency ANP says.

A parliamentary debate on the Dutch political crisis is expected to take place on Tuesday afternoon. A key question facing the political parties is whether to hold general elections before or after the summer recess.