by Staff Writers
The Hague (AFP) Sept 9, 2012
The Netherlands votes Wednesday to elect a new parliament for the second time in two years after a tight race dominated by economic uncertainty thanks to Europe's seemingly endless debt crisis.
A resurgent Labour (PvdA), led by Diederik Samsom, has drawn level with outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte's leading Liberal VVD party at 35 seats each in the 150-seat Lower House, according to the latest NOS poll published Saturday.
Rutte, who became the first Liberal Dutch premier since World War I in 2010, has gone on the offensive, calling the PvdA "dangerous for the Netherlands" in a newspaper interview Saturday.
He claimed that should Labour win, jobs would be lost and long queues at hospitals reminiscent of previous Labour governments would return. Samsom dismissed the claims.
Both 45-year-old Rutte's People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) and the second-placed PvdA led by former Greenpeace activist Samsom, 41, have taken on the eurocrisis and austerity as just one of many election themes.
It was a dispute over budget cuts to bring the Netherlands, the eurozone's fifth-largest economy, back to below a European Union three-percent deficit target that led to the collapse of Rutte's minority coalition in April.
Ahead of Wednesday's vote, the budget cuts that are hitting Dutch pockets hard are again weighing heavily on the minds of some 12.5 million eligible voters.
"One of the most important issues in the election is the economic crisis and austerity," Andre Krouwel, political scientist at Amsterdam's Free University, told AFP.
Both the Liberals and Labour are pro-Europe but because of spending cuts to pay for spendthrift southern European countries they are faced with an electorate that is increasingly hostile towards Brussels.
The two leading parties are offering different solutions, said Krouwel.
"While the VVD is for strict austerity" including cutting the number of civil servants to bring the budget deficit below the EU's ceiling by next year, Labour "believes in a certain amount of investment to kickstart the economy."
Opposed to austerity, the PvdA plans to reduce the budget to balance it by 2017 while not worrying too much about getting the deficit below the Brussels-imposed target by next year.
"In a sense, the VVD is closer to somebody like Germany's (Chancellor) Angela Merkel, while the PvdA would be closer to France's Francois Hollande," said Krouwel.
Parties such as the far-right Party for Freedom (PVV) of platinum-haired politician Geert Wilders -- which made exiting the EU and the eurozone its central theme -- are not benefiting because people "realise that leaving Europe is not an option," added Krouwel.
Polls showed the PVV by Saturday with 19 seats, down five from its 24 garnered in the 2010 elections.
But less than a week ahead of the elections -- the fifth in a decade -- many voters still remain undecided, fed up with promises made by politicians, political communications professor Claes de Vreese of the Amsterdam University told AFP.
A study published by Dutch polling agency Ipsos Synovate broadcast on national television on Thursday said as many as 43 percent of all voters have yet to make up their minds.
"Anything can still happen," De Vreese told AFP.
The aftermath of the polls could also see a long period of political wrangling to form a coalition, amid Europe's swirling debt crisis when swift decisions need to be taken.
"We are dealing with a politically very fragmented landscape," said De Vreese. "But most voters want a stable coalition (government)."
Democracy in the 21st century at TerraDaily.com
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