THE HAGUE, March 15 (Xinhua) -- The people in the Netherlands started to vote on Wednesday in the 2017 Dutch parliamentary elections, with the outcome being far from predictable, ranging from a vote for populism, a choice for the right wing of current Prime Minister Mark Rutte or a vote for the left.
From 7.30 a.m. until 9 p.m. local time the polling stations open their doors for all Dutch citizens of 18 years and older.
A total of 12.9 million people on a population of around 17 million are allowed to vote, which is 300,000 people more than during the previous elections in 2012.
Approximately 850,000 people who were less than 18 years old in 2012, can vote for the first time. In addition, around 77,500 Dutch citizens living abroad, who had to register at the municipality in The Hague, can also vote, which is also more than the 48,000 of five years ago.
The voter turnout in 2012 was 74.6 percent, which was one of the lowest since 1970, when compulsory voting was abolished. The record low was 73.3 percent turnout during the elections of 1998. The municipalities expect a bigger turnout than 2012 for Wednesday's elections.
The Dutch have a bicameral system with two houses of Parliament, the House of Representatives, the Tweede Kamer, and the Senate, the Eerste Kamer. The forthcoming elections are about choosing the 150 members of the House of Representatives.
A total of 28 parties, equaling the post-World War II record of 1971 and 1981, and 1,114 unique candidates joined the race for a seat in the 150-seat parliament. According to the latest polls around 15 parties could get a seat.
The seven biggest parties in the polls are from right to left -- the right wing populist Party for Freedom PVV with leader Geert Wilders, the rightist liberal People's Party for Freedom and Democracy VVD (Rutte), the middle-right Christian democrats CDA (Sybrand Buma), the middle-left liberals Democrats D66 (Alexander Pechtold), leftist Labor PvdA (Lodewijk Asscher), leftist green party GroenLinks (Jesse Klaver) and leftist Socialist Party SP (Emile Roemer).
In the latest polls, VVD is in front ahead of the PVV, but the differences with the other parties are that small that anything can still happen on Wednesday. The race to become the biggest party is wide open. The position of becoming the biggest party is important, because that party can take the initiative in forming a government coalition.
A win for the PVV could be the continuation of the wind of populism blowing through Europe, and a barometer for the French presidential elections kicking off next month and Germany following in September.
Even if the populist party of Wilders wins in the Netherlands, a government with the PVV is highly unlikely. All other six big parties already excluded a coalition with the anti-Islamic and anti-Europe party. A future coalition with VVD, CDA, D66 and one or two other parties seems most logic.
In 2012 the situation was different with a classic battle between the right, the VVD, and the left, the PvdA, arising in the final campaign weeks, with the VVD becoming the largest with 41 seats and the PvdA finishing second with 38 seats. Both parties then quickly agreed to form a government.
While the economic crisis was the theme of the elections five years ago, the themes in the 2017 campaign were numerous, with integration, immigration, education, security, health care, Europe, the environment, the elderly.
No issue transcended all themes until last weekend. Since Saturday most talk is about the diplomatic row with Turkey.
The question is if the row between the Netherlands and Turkey, with the Dutch government preventing Turkish ministers to campaign in the Netherlands, will have consequences on the election result.
Will Prime Minister Rutte's VVD profit from taking action, will Wilders' PVV profit from a rising anti-foreigner sentiment, will both parties profit or will the row have no consequences?
Due to a fear for Internet hackers, the results of the forthcoming Dutch general elections will be fully calculated by hand instead of partly by the software used for election results in the past eight years.
On the evening of the elections preliminary, non-official results will be presented in the media, based on a quick count of votes by the electoral committees. The Dutch Electoral Council will determine the official results of the election for the House of Representatives on March 21, 2017.