Dutch vote in local elections, referendum on government online spying powers

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AMSTERDAM: Dutch voters were casting votes in a local election on March 21, with far-right parties seeking gains. They were also voting in a referendum on plans to broaden government online spying powers. Most Polling stations were opened at 7:30am (0630 GMT) and remained open till 9:00pm (2000GMT).

Ipsos conducted exit polls in six of the Netherland’s 335 municipalities and nearly 12.5 million registered voters cast their votes in the election. Exit polls cited by Dutch media, had the Green Left emerging as the biggest party in Amsterdam and the central city of Utrecht.

The Christian Democratics (CDA) and local parties won the most votes, while Green Left won in Amsterdam and far-right parties Leefbaar Rotterdam and Mos Group won in Rotterdam and the Hague.

Green Left scored strongly in national elections last year, but did not join Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s four-party ruling coalition. “What has happened is historic. Not all the votes have been counted, but this can be a beautiful night,” party leader Jesse Klaver said before elections.

The DENK (Think) Party, was formed by Tunahan Kuzu and Selcuk Ozturk in 2015 after their expulsion from the Labor Party, also ran in the elections. DENK joined with a total of 24 members of parliament in 13 municipalities. The party had participated for the first time in last year’s general election and managed to secure three seats.

4.9 per cent of the vote, has been taken by the Forum for Democracy. Although the party is participating only in Amsterdam but national opinion polls show it is now the third most popular in the Netherlands.

The Forum for Democracy leader Thierry Baudet has siphoned voters from anti-Islam lawmaker Geert Wilders, who has been a fixture among European right-wing populists since 2006.

After winning two seats in the March 2017, Baudet entered the Dutch national Parliament, speaking Trump’s call to “drain the swamp”. Baudet has been called sexist and racist for various remarks he has made, including saying last year that women “generally excel less in many occupations and lack ambition” and that Dutch “people are being homoeopathically diluted by mixing them with all the peoples of the world”.

Currently, Wilders’ Freedom Party is the second largest party in Parliament. Wilder’s struggled to find suitable candidates to compete in the local elections.

The main central issues of election campaign were anti-migrant, housing shortages and rapidly rising rents.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte, whose approval ratings have remained solid amid an economic boom since he formed a third cabinet in October, campaigned to deny refugees preferential treatment for housing.

“People who come from outside to the Netherlands have to properly take their place at the back of the line. But there are still cities that give asylum seekers preference,” Rutte said in an election eve debate.

Separate to the municipal elections, Dutch voters narrowly voted in a national referendum to approve a new law granting intelligence agencies the ability to install bulk taps on Internet traffic.

According to an Ipsos poll, 49 percent of voters were in favor of the law and 48 against, but had a 5 percent margin of error. The poll suggested a turnout of 48 percent, well above the threshold of 30 percent necessary for the referendum to be declared valid.

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