, THE HAGUE, Mar 3 – Voting stations opened in the Netherlands Wednesday for local elections viewed as a test of loyalties 10 days after the central government collapsed and three months ahead of early national polls.
Some 12 million Dutch out of a total 16.5 million are registered to vote in 393 municipalities in polls that opened at 0630 GMT and would close at 2000 GMT, officials said.
Some voting stations had received special permission to open at midnight on Tuesday as cities employ novel methods to lure apathetic voters — including voting at a special pop concert in The Hague or on a vintage bus travelling through Amsterdam.
Voters will use a red pencil to draw a cross for their favourite candidate, with nearly 9,000 councillors to be elected countrywide.
Official results will be made known in two days\’ time, after which municipal councils will propose candidates for mayor to be nominated by head of state Queen Beatrix.
In 2006, the PvdA labour party came out tops with 23.45 percent of the vote nationally, ahead of the Christian Democratic party of outgoing Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende which got 16.83 percent.
PvdA leader Wouter Bos withdrew his party from the national government which then collapsed on February 20 in a spat over extending the Dutch military mission in Afghanistan.
Polls indicate that both parties were damaged by these events ahead of national polls brought forward to June 9; the big winner being extreme right, anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders whose Party for Freedom (PVV) is now estimated by some to be the most popular.
The PVV, with its mission to "stop the Islamisation of the Netherlands", will contest Wednesday\’s elections in only two cities: the seat of government The Hague, the Netherlands\’ third largest city with 442,000 inhabitants, and Almere with 187,000.
Most polls expect the PVV of Wilders, awaiting trial for hate speech against Muslims, to win in Almere and come second or third in The Hague.