Voting began on Wednesday in the Netherlands in a parliamentary election seen as a political litmus test for Europe because it is the first polling by an affluent nation in the eurozone since the outbreak of the debt crisis among European Union countries.

All opinion polls forecast a defeat for the conservative Christian Democratic Appeal, which led the previous ruling coalition, and a change in the government of Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende.

A narrow victory for the opposition centre—right People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) was possible. The pro—business party was pushing deep budget cuts that are to include the generous Dutch social programmes.

A win would mean VVD chief Mark Rutte would become the first liberal politician to lead the Netherlands since 1913.

However, the gap between the VVC and the Labour Party had shrunk to three parliamentary seats, and a head—to—head race between the liberals and social democrats was a possibility.

The Party for Freedom — led by the populist, right—wing, Islam critic Geert Wilders — was set to see some strong gains. Polls found that it could double its seats in parliament and become its fourth—strongest party.

Such an outcome could result in a conservative coalition government with Mr. Wilders.

A coalition of leftist parties alone was not in the offing as voter surveys found they would be unable to gain a majority in the 150—seat parliament.

About 12.5 million Dutch citizens were eligible to vote in polling that was to end at 9 pm (1900 GMT).

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