Voters appeared likely to shift the Netherlands to the right in national elections on Wednesday dominated by concerns over the rising national debt and discontent over immigration.
The conservative VVD party under leader Mark Rutte holds a solid lead in opinion surveys, running on a deficit-busting, tough-on-immigration platform. The overtly anti-Islam Freedom Party of Geert Wilders, which wants a ban on all immigration from non-Western countries, also appears set to book large gains, perhaps doubling its current strength in parliament.
A softer approach promoted by left-leaning parties, including former Amsterdam Mayor Job Cohen’s Labor Party, is unlikely to win a majority, though Labor is running second in polls and has made a late surge.
If the Dutch swing to the right, they would follow voters in Britain, who ousted the long-governing Labor Party last month, in Germany and earlier in France. Nationalist and anti-immigrant parties have been gaining force even in the traditionally open-door countries of Scandinavia.
About 10 parties of the 24 that are fielding candidates are expected to win entry into the 150-seat Second Chamber, the legislative house of parliament. But in the fractured political scene, none is expected to come close to a majority, and a long period of political bargaining is likely to build a 76-seat majority coalition among three or four parties.
One possibility, however, is a minority government of right-wing parties, with outside support from the Freedom Party. No party is anxious to join an alliance with Wilders because of his sharp, often polarizing anti-Islam politics and his leftist economic views. He is facing criminal prosecution for inciting hate. Various opinion polls agree on the preelection trends.