THE HAGUE, May 23 (Xinhua) -- The 9,340 polling stations in the Netherlands opened their doors for the ninth European Parliament elections at 7.30 a.m. local time (0530 GMT) on Thursday, with a close battle between the government party VVD of Prime Minister Mark Rutte and the right populist Forum for Democracy (FvD) expected.
Dutch Labor politician Frans Timmermans, vice-president of the European Commission, was one of the first to vote in his home town Heerlen, in the southern province of Limburg. The lead candidate of the European socialists had to be early, because he would continue his campaign in Spain later in the day, followed by Italy and Austria.
"It is the first time I voted for myself," Timmermans said. "I want to become President of the European Commission. There is no plan B."
A total of 13.5 million Dutch citizens aged 18 or over, of which almost half a million European Union (EU) citizens without Dutch nationality, are eligible to vote in the Netherlands for 16 parties with in total 308 candidates competing for 26 seats in the European Parliament.
The polling stations will close at 9 p.m. local time (1900 GMT), which is also the time of the first exit poll. The definite results will be released on Sunday night when all countries have voted.
The expected turnout in the Netherlands is over 50 percent, according to research by I&O Research, which is much higher than the turnout during the last European Parliament elections on May 22, 2014, when turnout was 37.32 percent.
According to the last poll conducted by research bureau Ipsos and TV show EenVandaag on Wednesday, the elections will be a neck-and-neck race between the government party, the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), and the far-right populist party FvD, which is participating in the European Parliament elections for the first time.
Both the FvD and the VVD are forecasted to end up with five seats, Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA), PvdA (Labor) and GroenLinks (Green Left) with three seats, Democrats 66 (D66), Party for Freedom (PVV), ChristenUnie (CU)/Reformed Political Party (SGP) with two and the Socialist Party (SP) with one.
The FvD is one of the anti-Europe parties in the Netherlands, together with the right-wing populist PVV and the socialist party SP. The FvD wants a "Nexit" after the Brexit and wants the Netherlands to leave the euro zone.
PM Rutte challenged FvD leader Thierry Baudet for a debate on national television, which was ultimately accepted by Baudet and the debate took place late night on Wednesday in Amsterdam.
"The real costs for the euro zone are enormous," Baudet said during the debate. "If we stay in the euro (zone) we will pay endlessly for the countries that stay behind."
Rutte responded by saying that leaving the euro zone is "like jumping out of the window, hoping you get wings while you are in the air," adding that Baudet was "risking two million Dutch jobs."
The debate between Rutte and Baudet overshadowed the debate earlier on Wednesday night between the campaign leaders for the European elections with relatively unknown names who discussed usual issues like the power of Europe, climate and migration.