What you need to know
- An exit poll puts anti-Islam populist figure Geert Wilders in the lead
- If confirmed, the result would be an 18-seat swing to his far-right PVV party
- Other candidates vying to lead the country included the new leader of Rutte's VVD party Dilan Yesilgöz-Zegerius and former EU climate commissioner Frans Timmermans
- The election was called for after Rutte's coalition collapsed over disagreements over how to curb asylum seekers
This live updates article is now closed. For more developments, head to our Thursday article on the Dutch election.
Far-right politicians in Europe congratulate Wilders after win
Wilders’ party’s stunning election performance drew praise from nationalist and far-right European politicians.
"The winds of change are here! Congratulations to Geert Wilders on winning the Dutch elections!" hailed Hungarian nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
French far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who leads the Rassemblement National party, posted on X: "Congratulations to Geert Wilders and the PVV for their spectacular performance in the legislative elections which confirms the growing attachment to the defense of national identities."
"It is because there are people who refuse to see the national torch extinguished that the hope for change remains alive in Europe."
Italian far-right leader and Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini also congratulated Wilders.
"Congratulations to our friend Geert Wilders, leader of the PVV and historic ally of the League, for this extraordinary electoral victory. A new Europe is possible."
However, some also expressed trepidation over the projected election outcome.
"The distress and fear are enormous. "Wilders is known for his ideas about Muslims and Moroccans. We are afraid that he will portray us as second-class citizens" said Habib El Kaddouri, head of the Dutch organization representing Dutch-Moroccans.
Friends of the Earth Netherlands, a network of grassroots environmental organizations, said it’s worried about the impact on climate action. "A Wilders government will mean four years of climate change denial, exclusion and a breakdown of the rule of law."
Frans Timmermans, leader of the Green/Labor left-wing bloc, said: "Democracy has spoken, now it's time for us to defend democracy, to defend the rule of law. We have to make a fist against exclusion, against discrimination."
How long will a new Dutch government take to form?
Once all the votes from Wednesday's election have been counted, party leaders will have to negotiate the makeup of the next governing coalition.
With multiple parties, and with far-right politician Geert Wilders' PVV in the lead, the horse-trading could take several months.
It is not clear he will be able to garner the necessary support for a broad enough coalition to form a workable government.
All the leaders of the three other top parties have said they would not serve in a PVV-led coalition.
After the 2021 election, it took more than 271 days or nine months for them to put together a four-party arrangement.
That's despite the then-new coalition being the same as the previous.
Although it is the tradition, there is no guarantee that the party that wins the most seats will end up delivering the prime minister.
Rutte will remain in a caretaker role until a new government is installed, likely in the first half of 2024.
Once the coalition makeup is agreed upon, the parties sign a coalition agreement and the new government is tasked with setting out its plans in parliament, followed by a vote of confidence.
Geert Wilders: The Dutch Donald Trump
Often referred to as the Dutch Trump, Geert Wilders' anti-Islam, anti-immigrant and anti-EU message seems to have finally swept him to first place at the polls.
From calling Moroccans "scum" to holding competitions for cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, Wilders has built a career from his self-appointed mission to stop an "Islamic invasion" of the West.
He has remained defiant despite brushes with the law — he was convicted for insulting Moroccans — and death threats that have meant he has been under police protection since 2004.
Nevertheless, at the sixth time of asking, Wilders appears to have finally triumphed in the polls by toning down some of his populist rhetoric and focusing on voters' other concerns.
There are "bigger problems than fighting against the flood of asylum-seekers and immigrants", he said in one of the final election debates, adding he was prepared to put his views on Islam "in the freezer" to govern.
He said the Dutch people care more about cost-of-living issues, healthcare and security.
Yet the manifesto of his PVV (Freedom Party) retained the sharp anti-immigrant tone that has become his hallmark.
Born in 1963 in southern Venlo, close to the German border, Wilders grew up in a Catholic family with his brother and two sisters.
His mother was half-Indonesian, a fact Wilders rarely mentions.
Wilders entered politics in 1998 in the Liberal VVD party, before beginning a one-man faction in parliament and then forming the far-right PVV in 2006.
Wilders vows to 'return country to the Dutch'
Dutch far-right populist Geert Wilders vowed to "return the country to the Dutch" in a first response to his seemingly resounding victory in general elections.
"We will have to find ways to live up to the hopes of our voters, to put the Dutch back on number one," Wilders said after an exit poll showed his Freedom Party (PVV) had a wide lead on other parties.
"Now is the time for parties to look for agreements, we can't be ignored."
The PVV is projected to garner 35 of the 150 seats in parliament, which, if confirmed, would make it the first right-wing populist party ever to win parliamentary elections in the Netherlands.
Wilders' Freedom Party powers ahead
Dutch far-right politician Geert Wilder's Freedom Party (PVV) party is projected to win the most votes in the country's general election, an exit poll published shortly after voting closed showed Wednesday.
The poll predicted that the PVV could win 35 seats, with the left-wing Green-Labour alliance set to be placed second with 26 seats. Rutte's VVD was set to win 23 seats if the exit poll by national broadcaster NOS proves accurate.
The result puts Wilders in line to lead talks to form a new ruling coalition and possibly become the country's next prime minister.
If the PVV gets 35 seats in the 150-seat lower house of parliament, it would be more than double the 17 he won at the last election.
Elections mark end of Rutte era
Mark Rutte announced in July that he was quitting national politics as his fourth coalition government collapsed.
The 56-year-old is ending a 13-year tenure as Dutch prime minister.
Rutte's longevity granted him the nickname "Teflon Mark." His third Cabinet, which took office in 2017, set the record for the Dutch government to face the most motions of no-confidence in the country's history with 36 motions.
Rutte's resignation, which sparked the snap elections, came after what he described as "insurmountable" differences within his coalition over the country's migration policies.
It was also followed by a wave of resignations from the leaders of several parties, paving the way for an entirely new political landscape for the Netherlands.
Speculation has risen since then on whether Rutte was interested in pursuing the role of NATO secretary-general after the departure of the alliance's current chief, Jens Stoltenberg, next year.
Rutte said he thought the job would be "interesting," but added that he thought the role should go to a woman.
Dilan Yesilgoz-Zegerius: Netherlands' first female leader?
Dutch Justice Minister Dilan Yesilgoz-Zegerius replaced outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte as head of the center-right VVD party.
Her party has had a slight lead in opinion polls ahead of Wednesday's elections, raising speculation that she could become the first female leader of the Netherlands.
Yesilgoz-Zegerius, 46, was born in Turkey. The former refugee child wants to cut immigration, after her predecessor quit amid differences within his coalition over asylum.
She has also announced willingness to govern with Geert Wilders and his far-right PVV party, which would mark a radical departure from Rutte's policy.
Voters can see more differences between her and Rutte, who has managed to keep his private life away from the spotlight for more than a decade in office.
"In the few years she has been in the public eye, we know more about her private life than about Rutte in all the years he has been prime minister," De Volkskrant newspaper wrote.
Far-right party cancels election night event
The far-right party Forum for Democracy (FvD) announced canceling an event for its members to observe the results together due to security concerns.
FvD members will still gather at an Amsterdam bar, but without party leader Thierry Baudet.
The announcement came after Baudet was attacked with a beer bottle at an election meeting in a bar on Monday.
Police arrested the suspected perpetrator, reportedly a teenage boy.
Turnout so far at 40%
Dutch media reported, citing figures from research agency Ipsos, that voter turnout was an estimated 40% as of 3:45 p.m. local time (1445 UTC).
The figure is slightly lower than the 43% recorded in the 2017 election at the same time of day.
The data is incomparable to the last election, which took place in 2021 over three days instead of one and voting by mail was allowed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
This year, polls opened at 7:30 a.m and are set to close at 9 p.m local time.
Printing error on Friesland ballots slows progress
Voting was halted at one polling station in the north in the state of Friesland after a printing error on some of its ballots was noted, according to Dutch broadcaster NOS and other domestic media.
The blank circle next to one of the candidates' names, which voters who wish to support the candidate should mark, had a thick line of black ink covering just over half of its area.
The error was next to the name Kajsa Ollongren, the current defense minster and a candidate for the center-left D66 party.
The voting station in question, in De Waldsang in the Achtkarspelen municipality, closed temporarily as a precuation as it asked the election commission whether the papers were valid or not.
The election commission eventually ruled that the ballots could still be used, presumably as part of the circle could still be marked by voters, and that voting could continue.
The voting station later reported that roughly 8,000 ballot papers had the printing error.
Rutte, Wilders, Timmermans cast ballots
Outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte cast his vote in The Hague early Wednesday morning.
Geert Wilders, of the anti-immigration Freedom Party (PVV), was another leader to vote in the city that is the seat of the Dutch government.
The PVV and Rutte's conservative People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) were vying for the position as the largest party according to polls taken shortly before voting.
Meanwhile, the leading light among the center-left candidates, Frans Timmermans — who left a top EU job to return home and throw his hat in the ring — voted in Maastricht. Timmermans resides in the city near the German border.
He's leading an alliance of the ecologists GroenLinks ("Green Left") and the PvdA social democratic party, another group with at least an outside shot of emerging as the largest party.
High-flying newcomer Pieter Omtzigt votes in Enschede
The emerging candidate in the election, Pieter Omtzigt, was one of several leading politicians to turn out early to pose for the cameras as they voted.
Omtzigt only formed his party, the New Social Contract (NSC), three months ago. Yet, at one point, the new entity was polling ahead of the entire pack.
His politics are broadly seen as center-right, but his campaign has focused on political reform and fighting corruption. His zeal for his chosen cause earned him the nickname "Saint Pieter" in some corners.
However, Omtzigt's support appeared to dip in the run-up to the vote as he was hesitant to put himself forward as a candidate for prime minister.
At first, he argued it was not important who took the top job, then he later said he would consider leading a Cabinet made up primarily of experts rather than politicians.
Omtzigt is a longserving member of parliament and was formerly a member of the center-right Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) — once a powerhouse in Dutch politics but likely to suffer considerable losses this time around.
He became an independent in 2021 on leaving the CDA and founded the NCS in the run-up to the vote.
More than 13 million eligible voters, 150 seats up for grabs
Roughly 13.3 million people aged 18 and over are eligible to vote on Wednesday.
Their ballots will decide how all 150 seats are filled in the lower house of parliament, the House of Representatives.
If the current schedule holds, the old parliament would sit for the last time on December 5, and the new one would be ushered in on December 6.
However, coalition talks and government formation could take much longer. Even the strongest parties were only polling at around 20% support before the vote.
After the last election in March 2021, it took nine months for Mark Rutte to establish a new coalition government.
If a similar delay follows this time, Rutte would continue as caretaker prime minister until a viable replacement emerges. Even if the process goes more smoothly than last time, a new government is not likely to take shape until early in 2024.
Weather forecasts looked relatively pleasant for late November, meaning the elements shouldn't be too much of a barrier to voters turning out. Temperatures between around 4-8 degrees Celsius (39-46 Fahrenheit) were forecast, with the prospect of some fog and mainly dry weather, except for some possible afternoon and evening rain in the north.
Polls open across the Netherlands
Polls opened for the weekday election at 7:30 a.m. local time (0630 GMT/UTC) and are scheduled to close at 9 o'clock in the evening.
Two voting stations, those in Zwolle and Castricum, had opened at the stroke of midnight.
National public broadcaster NOS is expected to publish its first exit poll results around the same time polls close, although it's possible that even a relatively clear picture of the results won't immediately reveal the shape of a future government.
For more information on a wide-open race and the key contenders in an election with only one real certainty — that the Netherlands should fairly soon have a new prime minister — take a look at Ella Joyner's report from Tilburg.
Who are the candidates?
Four politicians and their parties are competing for the European country's leadership.
Dilan Yesilgoz-Zegerius, a former refugee who is now campaigning to limit migration, leads Rutte's People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD). Winning would make her the first female Dutch prime minister.
Former European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans now leads the combined Labor and Green left ticket. He has put climate change at the center of his campaign, alongside attempting to win back blue-collar workers.
Geert Wilders, known internationally for his anti-Islam stances, meanwhile leads the Party for Freedom (PVV). He is known for calling for a ban on the Quran and having "fewer" Moroccans in the Netherlands.
Center-right Pieter Omtzigt is also part of the race. He represents his own New Social Contract (NSC) party, though polls show he is trailing behind the other three candidates.
A combination of the political system in the Netherlands, where a government typically needs 50% of the popular vote to be able to take power, and the series of similar centrist parties sharing the votes makes coalition government almost an inevitability, usually with several parties required.