Voting starts in Dutch election

AP – Polling stations opened across the Netherlands early yesterday in a general election that has been spread over three days to allow people to vote safely during the coronavirus pandemic.

The COVID-19 crisis has been a dominant theme of the campaign, with opposition parties criticising the government’s handling of the healthcare emergency and candidates explaining how they will rebuild the economy when the virus recedes.

Voting yesterday started exactly a year after the first Dutch coronavirus lockdown began and the country is in another tough lockdown amid stubbornly high infection numbers. More than 16,000 people are confirmed to have died of COVID-19 in the Netherlands.

The conservative People’s Party of Freedom and Democracy, or VVD, led by Prime Minister Mark Rutte is forecast to win most seats in the 150-seat Lower House of Parliament.

That would put 54-year-old Rutte first in line to begin talks to form a new governing coalition. If he succeeds, he could become the longest-serving Dutch leader.

Police block the access for demonstrators next to an election billboard during a rally, ahead of three days of voting starting yesterday. PHOTO: AP

The first two days of voting are intended for vulnerable groups to be able to cast their ballot.

People aged over 70 also are entitled to vote by mail.

Campaigning will continue through today, halting only on the official election date, tomorrow.

In Amsterdam, voters could cast their ballot at locations including a drive-through polling station at a conference centre that even had a lane for people on the city’s favourite mode of transport — bicycles.

A record 37 parties are fielding candidates in the election.

After votes are counted tomorrow night and into Thursday, the process of forming the next ruling coalition will start.