Netherlands votes in hope of stability

2012-09-12 09:00

The Hague - Dutch voters go to the polls on Wednesday to elect a new government, craving stability to weather the relentless storm of the eurozone debt crisis at the expense of anti-Brussels extremist parties.

The fifth election in 10 years has shaped into a tight race between the ruling Liberal VVD party of pro-austerity Prime Minister Mark Rutte and the Labour PvdA of rising star and former Greenpeace activist Diederick Samsom.

Polls predict that both parties will send around 35 MPs to the 150-seat lower house, with other parties scrambling to be part of the eventual ruling coalition while Rutte and Samsom battle it out for the prime minister's job.

More than 12 million voters are eligible to take part and turnout is usually high at around 75%. Polls open at 7:30 and close at 21:00 with an estimated result expected shortly afterwards.

Firebrand far-right leader Geert Wilders brought down the last government in April after refusing to approve an austerity-driven budget and his PVV party is expected to lose seats this time round as well as any shot at power.

The PVV has switched its attacks from Muslims to Brussels, vowing to pull out of the euro and the EU itself if they come to power. But many Dutch voters and the political mainstream have decided that Wilders is simply unreliable.

Merkel's helpers

The hard-left, eurosceptic Socialist Party led by Emile Roemer surged in August but his popularity ebbed after Samsom seized the initiative in a string of televised debates during which Roemer was perceived as hesitant.

Fiscally prudent Rutte's government has been allied to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, while Samsom's calls for stimulus echo those of France's Socialist President Francois Hollande, elected this year on similar promises.

Both parties have wheeled out anti-EU rhetoric during campaigning, but the Dutch export-based economy cannot afford to call into question membership in the bloc, where it sends 75% of its exports.

Despite German fears of losing a key ally, whatever shape the new government of the traditionally frugal Netherlands takes it will stick to helping Merkel crack the austerity whip on the backs of indebted southern European nations.

Germany's Constitutional Court is meanwhile to rule on Wednesday on the legality of two key eurozone crisis tools - a €500bn rescue fund called the ESM, and the EU fiscal pact.

Observers say that should the German court order a legal review of parliament's recent approval of the measures, as many German citizens want, it may also further aggravate anti-EU sentiment in the Netherlands.