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The coronavirus epidemic casts a long shadow over the Dutch election

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) – Housing inequality, environment, health, education. Dutch voters have many issues to discuss in next week’s election, but they are all more than the COVID-19 epidemic.

The Dutch are voting in favor of the lower house of the 150-seat parliament, deeply aware that more than 16,000 people have died in the Netherlands due to COVID-19.

“I really think this year’s election is really about the coronavirus,” said student Ayub Auragh. “Because we saw that the government made a lot of mistakes in the past, we really want to see how we can get out of it together.”

Many voters support Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s efforts to resolve the crisis. His popularity grew at the beginning of the epidemic, when he regularly appeared on television, calling on the country to take the last blockade, calling for unity in the fight against the virus.

But later slips. The Netherlands was the last of the 27 EU countries to launch a vaccination campaign, meaning Ruthe’s popularity has plummeted as the three-day vote begins on Monday.

But his People’s Democratic Party for Freedom և Democracy, known by the Dutch acronym VVD, still leads the polls, although polls suggest many voters may still be undecided. If the VVD wins the largest number of votes, Rutte will be the first to start negotiations to form the country’s next ruling coalition, a process that could take months.

The 54-year-old has ruled the country for more than 10 years, the last four at the helm of a four-party coalition, and could become the longest-serving leader of the Netherlands if he wins another four-year term.

Rutte extended the country’s tough blockade on Tuesday, but also hoped that the end of the month could allow people to visit the outdoor terraces of cafes if the rate of infection decreased or remained stable.

He insisted that optimism had nothing to do with running in the elections.

“If that were the case, we would have announced them now, it would be good to do it right away, but it is simply not possible,” he said. “You should not confuse elections with this.”

The other parties wanted to do it more and more.

“What are you doing, Premier Rutte?” “You are holding an entire country hostage in fear and captivity,” said Gert Wilders, an anti-immigration lawmaker who has been a vocal critic of the government’s anti-immigration policies.

With a record number of 37 parties vying for votes, some believe that there are many other issues that need to be addressed.

“In a way, that’s too much for COVID,” Sigrid Kaag, leader of the centrist D66 party, told the Associated Press. He said voters should decide “where is the turning point in terms of the significant investment needed in education, the jobs of the future, the green economy, as I mentioned, in the fight against the climate crisis.”

Andre Crowwell, a political scientist at Amsterdam’s Wries University, says the epidemic has shifted people’s attention to the economy.

“People ‘s preferences have shifted to the left. “They saw that people now need support, financial support from the government,” he said. “Thus, the economy is returning to its peak, while in the previous four or five elections, the main issue was immigration.”

The virus has also changed the voting process in the Netherlands.

Shaking hands with voters և Traditional election rallies were completely impossible to block, so politicians often appeared on TV and became creative online. Rutte continued to TikTok և answering questions by handing out table tennis balls with “Yes” or “No” bats.

Voting is held for three days to avoid overcrowding. Vulnerable groups can vote Monday through Tuesday, and everyone else can vote on Wednesday. Some municipalities have car parks, while Amsterdam has one for bicycle voters. About 2.4 million people over the age of 70 also have the right to vote by mail.

The results are expected to start coming late Wednesday evening.

Wilders leads the largest opposition party, with opinion polls showing that this will not change, but the main parties are reluctant to include him in the next ruling coalition because of his harsh rhetoric critical of Islam.

The populist “Forum for Democracy” is expected to at least double the two seats it won in 2017, despite rumors of anti-Semitism in the party’s youth ranks.

Unlike other political leaders, Forum leader Thierry Bode rallied. He is slowly criticizing the blocking measures, alleviating the severity of the coronavirus. Twitter recently called one of its tweets about its reasons for refusing vaccinations “misleading.”

Two famous women are fleeing, both former ministers of foreign aid and cooperation. Lilian Plumen from the center-left Labor Party և leader of D66 Kaag.

One of them could turn to Rotterdam finance student Aurag, 18, who is voting for the first time and wants to change the government.

“More confused,” he said. “Something that is a little different from what we’ve seen in recent years under Rutte.”

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Follow AP epidemic coverage https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic

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