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Pro-European parties set to dominate in Dutch election

Polling has opened in the Netherlands in what looks set to be a tight race between the pro-European ruling VVD party and Labour party. They are tipped to dominate at the expense of eurosceptic extremist parties.

Voters in the Netherlands headed to the polls on Wednesday to elect a new government in an election set to be shaped by the eurozone debt crisis.

Last minute polls on Tuesday showed Prime Minister Mark Rutte's Liberals and the centre-left Labour Party of ex-Greenpeace activist Diederik Samsom were neck-and-neck. Both parties are expected to send 36 MPs each to the 150-seat lower house, while Rutte and Samson battle it out for the top job.

Radical anti-Brussels parties, meanwhile, are expected to suffer at the hands of the more stable pro-European mainstream parties. The hard-left Socialists and the far-right anti-immigration Freedom Party, led by controversial figure Geert Wilders, polled in third and fourth respectively.

Wilders brought down the Rutte's government in April after refusing to sanction an austerity-driver budget. His PVV party is expected to lose seats in Wednesday's poll after campaigning on a pledge to pull out of both the European Union and the euro.

Vote on austerity

Despite a campaign dominated across the board by anti-EU rhetoric, voters are not expected to turn out en masse for a party which deviates from Dutch a tradition of fiscal discipline. Germany can therefore breathe a sigh of relief that it is unlikely to lose a key ally within the eurozone.

Nevertheless Dutch taxpayers are becoming frustrated by increasingly ardent demands for austerity as well as financial bailouts for ailing eurozone economies. Wednesday's vote has therefore been billed as a referendum on northern Europe's view of European crisis management and its stamina for cuts.

While Rutte's government is allied to German Chancellor Angela Merkel's doctrine of strict austerity, Samsom has campaigned on a pledge to stimulate the economy. Similar promises saw French President Francois Hollande storm to victory in elections earlier this year.

Polls opened 7.30 a.m. local time (5.30 GMT) and close at 9 p.m., with results expected shortly afterwards. More than 12 million people are eligible to vote, with turnout usually high at 75 percent.

ccp/sej (AFP, Reuters)