Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte arrives at a polling station in the Hague, the Netherlands, March 17, 2021. After two restricted voting days, all polling stations across the Netherlands opened their doors on Wednesday morning for the 2021 parliamentary elections. (Photo by Sylvia Lederer/Xinhua)
THE HAGUE, March 17 (Xinhua) -- After two restricted voting days, all polling stations across the Netherlands opened their doors on Wednesday morning for the 2021 parliamentary elections.
In its latest poll on Tuesday, Peilingwijzer, which calculates the average of different polling agencies Kantar, I&O Research and Ipsos/EenVandaag, indicated that the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) of Prime Minister Mark Rutte is expected to become the biggest party, just like four years ago. This means Rutte could be the favorite for the post of Prime Minister, for his fourth term.
In the fragmented political environment, people in the Netherlands have a lot to choose from. A total of 37 parties, a post-World War II record, and 1,579 candidates are in the race for the 150 seats in the House of Representatives.
The center-left liberal party D66 of female leader Sigrid Kaag is on the rise in the polls. The party could have 17 to 19 seats, according to Peilingwijzer, while the VVD is on 34-36 seats.
D66 is aiming for second place behind the VVD, so are the right-wing populist Party for Freedom PVV and the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA), which remain stable in the polls.
The three left-wing parties Labour, Socialist Party and Green Left are clearly behind and are engaged in a mutual battle over the question of who will be the largest party on the left.
Next are the Christian Union (CU), the Party for the Animals and the far-right anti-lockdown party Forum for Democracy (FvD). The FvD leader Thierry Baudet has slowly climbed back up in the polls after a leadership crisis by the end of last year.
In the middle of the COVID-19 crisis and the current lockdown, there was no election theme this year that transcended all other themes. In its campaign the VVD concentrated on the successful leadership of Rutte, D66 presented Kaag as an alternative for Rutte, CDA leader Wopke Hoekstra mainly spoke on economic recovery, PVV leader Geert Wilders brought up his anti-immigration theme again and FvD leader Baudet only spoke about stopping the lockdown.
Due to the coronavirus crisis, the elections are spread over three days. On Monday and Tuesday, around 1,600 of the total of 9,200 polling stations opened for the elderly and the vulnerable to vote. Those aged 70 and over could also cast their vote by post in recent weeks to avoid going to a polling station if they are afraid to get infected with COVID-19.
On Wednesday, all other polling stations are open from 7:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. for all people 18 years and older. Some 13.2 million of the total population of over 17 million are eligible to vote. Turnout is expected to be around 82 percent, about the same level as in 2017. All polling stations in the country took special measures against COVID-19.
In 2017, Rutte's VVD won the elections and formed a coalition government with CDA, D66 and the CU. This government stepped down on Jan. 15 this year as a result of the so-called child benefits scandal, in which parents were wrongly accused of fraud.
During the last leaders' debate on Tuesday night on national broadcaster NOS, Wilders attacked Rutte on his leadership after the Prime Minister had submitted the thesis that the Netherlands can only emerge from the crisis with realism and positivism.