Dutch vote amid economy worries

June 9, 2010 12:00 am

, THE HAGUE, Jun 9 – Dutch voters elected a new parliament on Wednesday with a centre-right party vowing to slash public spending leading polls and an outspoken anti-immigrant party also heading for a new breakthrough.

The first national election in a eurozone country since the Greek financial crisis erupted has been dominated by economic concerns.

Liberal party (VVD) leader Mark Rutte voted in The Hague at the centre of huge media interest as polls predict he will become the Netherlands\’ first prime minister from a liberal party since World War I.

Close to 12 million Dutch are eligible to vote for 150 seats in the lower house in polls brought forward after the government collapsed in February in a spat over military aid to Afghanistan.

None of the 18 parties contesting the poll expect to receive an outright majority.

Pollsters predict the Liberals will get about 34 seats, up from 21 currently, according to latest polls.

The Labour party (PvdA), led by Amsterdam\’s ex-mayor, 62-year-old Job Cohen, is tipped to be the second largest party with 30 seats, down from its current 33 MPs.

Third placed in the polls 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 expected to double its number of seats to 18 however.

Wilders arrived with half-a-dozen bodyguards at a primary school polling station in a middle-class suburb of The Hague Wednesday morning and said it was "an exciting day."

"I hope for the best outcome for my party," he told journalists.

"I think we have popular support. We will have to wait and see, but I am very positive. I hope that we can be a part of the next government."

Several children and their parents, mostly from immigrant origin, booed the PVV leader as he arrived at the school in a car with blackened windows.

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.

The Liberals have promised to cut government spending by about 45 billion euros (54 billion dollars) over the next four years and by 20 billion euros a year as from 2015 – the highest proposed by any party.

It wants to eradicate the public deficit (5.3 percent of GDP last year), reduce the size of the government and parliament, lower income taxes and cap civil servants\’ pay rises, while raising the retirement age by two years to 67.

The first exit polls are expected about 30 minutes after the 10,000 voting stations close at 9pm (1900 GMT).


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