The Netherlands' parliament has 150 seats which are filled through elections using a party-list proportional representation.
Two pro-European political parties - the Liberal Party (VVD) and the Social Democrats (PvdA) - are leading in the polls in the run-up to Wednesday's election dominated by the continent's debt crisis and austerity measures.
Most polls suggest that Prime Minister Mark Rutte's fiscally conservative VVD would win the most seats but recent opinion polls by different agencies have shown that Labour's popularity has surged, putting it just behind or on par the VVD.
People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) 31
|People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD)
Prime Minister Mark Rutte's VVD is a centre-right party, positioned politically just to the right of the Christian Democrats (CDA), another traditional powerhouse in Dutch politics.
Together, these two parties formed a coalition in October 2010 - with the backing in parliament of Geert Wilders' PVV - after the VVD won the elections for the first time in its history.
|Mark Rutte's government quit in April after failing to agree on a plan to bring its own deficit in line with EU rules [AP]
The VVD strives for small government with a minimum amount of taxes in order to stimulate growth in the private sector.
"Hard working Dutchmen should be able to spend their wages on whatever they please," is one of the main party principles.
In the mid-90s, the VVD went through major splits over the issue of migration and integration. Geert Wilders left the party in 2004 to form his Freedom Party (PVV), after disputes over these issues.
The Dutch government under Rutte quit on April 23, 2012 after failing to agree on a plan to bring its own deficit in line with EU rules.
Rutte is single and keeps his private life away from the public domain. Years ago, the media made fun of his admission that his mother still did his laundry.
More recently he has admitted to enjoying the occasional glass of wine in the evening after work.
The liberal party currently holds 31 seats in the 150-seat parliament, and is leading in the polls for Wednesday’s elections with 33 seats, just ahead or on par of the Labour Party.
The Labour Party is a social-democratic party currently in opposition to the fallen Rutte cabinet.
The PvdA is expressing a centre-left ideology and calls itself moderate and committed to building a welfare state, with some of its core issues being employment, social security, and investing in public education and health care.
|An abrupt rise in the popularity of Diederik Samsom has Prime Minister Rutte suddenly fighting to hang on to his lead [AP]
Party leader Diederik Samson had a particularly slow start when he was elected in March this year to lead the party into the September 12 elections.
A former Greenpeace activist who by his own account was arrested at least 10 times but never charged, Samsom trailed far behind at the beginning of the campaigns, but as made a remarkable comeback.
Labour is now neck and neck with Prime Minister Rutte's Liberal Party but the 41-year-old Samsom seems more popular than the 45-year-old Rutte.
"He looks like the perfect son-in-law," some say in the Netherlands, while others liken Samsom to former Labour leader Wouter Bos because of his energetic manner and televisual appeal.
Samsom's meteoric rise is largely thanks to one assured and confident performance after another in a marathon of televised election debates over the past fortnight, plus canny planning.
In a poll on Thursday, 47 per cent of those surveyed said they would pick Samsom as prime minister, against 42 per cent for Rutte, and 11 per cent said they had no preference.
|Christian Democrates (CDA)
The Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) is a traditional powerhouse in Dutch politics but seems to have lost its sway since the start of the financial trouble in Europe.
Founded in 1977, this centre-right Christian-democratic party has participated in all but two governments since then.
|Sybrand Haersma Buma's CDA has been struggling to regain its dominance of the Dutch political landscape [AFP]
However, the CDA suffered huge losses in the 2010 parliamentary elections, rendering it to become the smaller partner in the centre-right coalition with the VVD.
That government, headed by Mark Rutte, resigned in April after its ally in parliament, Geert Wilders' Freedom Party (PVV), refused to agree to budget cuts for 2013 needed to meet European Union limits on budget deficits.
The newly-appointed party leader, Sybrand van Haersma Buma, has not been able to turn around the down-ward spiral that has struck the party since 2010.
The party currently holds 21 seats in Parliament but - according to the latest polls - is heading towards historic defeat of only 13 seats.
Geert Wilders' Freedom Party is best known for its criticism of Islam and its efforts to ban the Quran in the Netherlands, calling it "a fascist book of a malefic religion".
With his catch phrase "I don't hate Muslims, I hate Islam" Wilders has become a controversial figure in the Netherlands and abroad.
|Wilders has campaigned to stop what he views as the "Islamisation of the Netherlands" [Reuters]
Wilders started his political career with the liberal VVD where he worked as a speechwriter and later as assistant to former party leader Frits Bolkestein.
In 2004 he left the VVD, citing irreconcilable differences over the party's position on the accession of Turkey to the European Union.
With his newly-founded Freedom Party Wilders shocked to political scene in the June 2010 elections when the party went from 9 to 24 seats (out of 150), making the PVV the third party in size.
In April, Wilders withdrew his support from the Rutte cabinet over differences about austerity measures.
In his campaign for the upcoming elections, Wilders has somewhat shifted his focus from highly polarising anti-Islam rhetoric to a hardline anti-Europa message.
After several party members walked out of Wilders' PVV, the Freedom Party was left with 20 seats in parliament and - according to the latest polls - will not loose or gain much from these elections.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies