Europe watches closely as the Netherlands votes in an election considered a test of the rise of nationalist, anti-immigration sentiment.
As many as 13 million Dutch people are at the polls today (March 15) in a parliamentary vote that has been dominated by immigration, Islam and the rise of populism.
Wilders: ‘people want to return our national sovereignty’
Before anti-EU firebrand Geert Wilders voted, he was asked about his controversial campaign.
“What do you say, Mr Wilders, to those who say your campaign has been run on fear and bigotry?”
The Party for Freedom leader replied: “We are having, I believe, a big support by the common Dutch people who have nothing with fear and bigotry. If we would be like that we would have 0.2% of the vote, but we have far more than that, and the common people who are interested in getting our country back and returning our national sovereignty are, hopefully, voting today in huge amounts.”
Wilders has pledged to remove the Netherlands from the EU, close all mosques and ban the Koran.
Rutte has slight lead, polls suggest
Going into the vote, polls suggested his main rival, centre-right Prime Minister Mark Rutte had a slight lead over him.
Rutte was asked about his insistence the election is a chance for voters to “beat the wrong sort of populism”.
“The fact is that politicians are only enlarging the problems instead of solving them. The wrong sort of populism is not addressing the real issues of the people, only making them bigger, instead of solving them,” Rutte responded.
Europe keeps a close eye on the vote
Whether or not Wilders wins, experts say he has next-to-no chance of forming a government as all leading parties have refused to work with him. However, a win for the PVV would send shockwaves rippling through Europe.
It’s being billed as a key election for Europe, not only the Netherlands.
The ballot is the first of three votes in the EU this year: the French presidentials will begin in April; and Germany is to hold a general election in the autumn.
All are expected to see an increase in support for anti-immigrant parties.