A woman wearing a headscarf votes in the general election in The Hague, Netherlands, March 15, 2017.Reuters/Dylan Martinez

The Dutch have begun voting in a parliamentary election that is expected to produce the most fragmented political landscape in the history of the country.
In a year of crucial votes in Europe, the Dutch vote could give an indication of whether the tide of populism that swept Britain towards Brexit and Donald Trump into the White house has reached its peak.

Most of the focus has been on “Holland’s Donald Trump”, the controversial right-wing populist Geert Wilders whose Party for Freedom is expected to perform well.
Mr Wilders voted in the The Hague, where he told reporters: “The common people, who are interested in getting their country back, and returning our national sovereignty, are hopefully voting today in huge amounts.”

The election in the Netherlands comes ahead of polls in France and Germany, when right-wing nationalists will also be key players.
During a final election debate among leaders from the parties vying for seats and control of the government, Mr Wilders continued with his anti-Islam rhetoric, while incumbent Prime Minister Mark Rutte sought to highlight his leadership experience.

The final days of campaigning have been overshadowed by a diplomatic crisis between the Dutch and Turkish governments.
Over the weekend, police used water cannon, horses and dogs to break up the pro-Turkey demonstration attended by hundreds as some activists threw bottles and stones.
The protest came after two Turkish ministers were stopped from campaigning in the Netherlands in favour of giving Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan more powers in a referendum.

Mr Rutte has driven through unpopular austerity measures over the last four years, but the Dutch economic recovery has gathered pace recently and unemployment has fallen fast.
Geert Wilders has been tapping into discontent among voters who say they are not benefiting from economic recovery.
While Mark Rutte’s ruling VVD party holds a narrow lead over Mr Wilders in most polls, other parties are also still in the running and well placed to play a role in forming the next coalition.



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