Dutch voters on Wednesday picked a Parliament in a test of support for stringent austerity measures set to influence the way European Union tackles the debt crisis.
The export-dependent Netherlands is a founding member of the EU and has long been a staunch supporter of the bloc’s open market. But many voters began questioning their role in the now 27-nation EU after the debt crisis erupted in 2009, feeling that their wealthy nation is paying too high a price to help bail out countries like Greece and Portugal. Even so, the two parties now leading the polls remain committed to Europe, though they differ on how to tackle its crisis.
Wednesday’s election has boiled down to a tight race between the free-market VVD party of Prime Minister Mark Rutte and the centre-left Labour Party led by Diederik Samsom, with smaller parties trailing.
The Dutch proportional representation system guarantees a coalition government and whichever party wins the most in the 150-seat House of Representatives will take the lead in choosing the parties that make up the next ruling coalition.
Despite their differences on Europe, Mr. Rutte and Mr. Samsom could win enough seats to wind up in the same coalition government, together with one more centrist party. While critical of a strict austerity-only solution to the debt crisis, Labour backed Mr. Rutte at crucial moments to approve bailout funds and endorse European-level solutions to prevent the debt crisis from spinning out of control.
Wednesday’s vote was the fifth election in the Netherlands in just over a decade.