[QODLink]
Europe
Euro-dominated Dutch polls go down to wire
Surveys show two pro-European parties in dead heat as country holds elections in shadow of eurozone debt crisis.
Last Modified: 12 Sep 2012 10:05

The Netherlands has voted in crunch polls seen as a gauge of anti-European sentiment after a riveting campaign that has shaped into a tight race between two pro-Europe parties.

The ruling Liberal VVD party of pro-austerity Prime Minister Mark Rutte and the Labour PvdA of rising star and former Greenpeace activist Diederik Samsom are battling it out on Wednesday for the top spot in the fifth election in 10 years.

Polls predict that both parties will send around 35 MPs to the 150-seat lower house, with 19 other parties scrambling to be part of the eventual ruling coalition.

Despite a campaign dominated by anti-Brussels rhetoric, the vote is expected to return a centrist coalition government that will remain committed to austerity and staying in the EU.

And in a key ruling for the eurozone's future, the top court in neighbouring Germany approved a new European firewall for ratification by parliament that is seen as a crucial crisis-fighting tool.

The latest opinion polls predict a middle-of-the-road coalition government involving the pro-austerity VVD and pro-stimulus PvdA will emerge after an expected 12.5 million voters cast their ballots.

Rutte's fiscally prudent government has been allied to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, while Samsom's calls for stimulus echo those of France's Socialist President Francois Hollande, elected this year on similar promises.

Tight race

Whatever shape the new government takes it will stick to helping Merkel crack the austerity whip on the backs of indebted southern European nations.

A coalition between the VVD, which garnered 31 seats in 2010 and the PvdA, which had 30, together with one or two smaller parties seems the most likely option to get a 76-seat majority.

Budget cuts in the founding EU member are already hitting Dutch pockets hard and weighing heavily on voters' minds.

Analysts say at least one million voters have yet to decide who to vote for.

Party leaders had one more chance to convince undecided voters when they faced off in a final live debate on Dutch television on Tuesday night.

Both the Liberals and Labour are pro-Europe but because of cuts to pay for spendthrift eurozone nations, they are faced with an electorate that is increasingly negative towards Brussels though realistic about the impossibility of European disintegration.

Rutte himself said in a debate on Monday he would put the brakes on handing over further power to the European Union.

It was a spat over austerity measures to stay within an EU-imposed deficit target that led to Rutte's coalition crashing in April.

"I am 'Mr No' when it comes to a Brussels that's expanding more and more," he said.

Samsom announced last week he had telephoned Hollande to discuss the eurozone debt crisis, setting his compass clearly more towards France than Germany.

Rutte's anti-Europe rhetoric could change after the election, once he is confronted with the political reality of tackling the debt crisis.

480

Source:
Agencies
Topics in this article
People
Country
City
Organisation
Featured on Al Jazeera
At least 25 tax collectors have been killed since 2012 in Mogadishu, a city awash in weapons and abject poverty.
Tokyo government claims its homeless population has hit a record low, but analysts - and the homeless - beg to differ.
3D printers can cheaply construct homes and could soon be deployed to help victims of catastrophe rebuild their lives.
Lack of child protection laws means abandoned and orphaned kids rely heavily on the care of strangers.
Featured
Booming global trade in 50-million-year-old amber stones is lucrative, controversial, and extremely dangerous.
Legendary Native-American High Bird was trained in ancient warrior traditions, which he employed in World War II.
Hounded opposition figure says he's hoping for the best at sodomy appeal but prepared to return to prison.
Fears of rising Islamophobia and racial profiling after two soldiers killed in separate incidents.
Group's culture of summary justice is back in Northern Ireland's spotlight after new sexual assault accusations.