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Voters go to the polls on the last day of a viral election in the Netherlands

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) – Thousands of Dutch polling booths opened in the Netherlands on Wednesday, the last day of the general election, due to a shady coronavirus epidemic, with caretaker Prime Minister Mark Rutte seeking a fourth term.

Rutte’s Conservative Freedom’s Democracy People’s Party led by a wide margin over a year ago, but has narrowed its lead in recent weeks.

If his party turns out to be the largest when polling stations close at 9pm (GMT GMT), Rutte will be the first to lead negotiations to form the next ruling coalition. If successful, he could become the country’s longest-serving prime minister.

His popularity skyrocketed last year when he led his country through an epidemic that killed more than 16,000 people in the Netherlands and plunged more than 17 million prosperous countries into recession. But in recent weeks, that popularity has plummeted as public support for the month-long blockade plummeted, and his government resigned amid a scandal involving tax officials who mislabeled thousands of families as fraudsters.

“What are you still doing here?” Anti-immigration opponent Gert Wilders asked Rutte during the last televised debate on Tuesday night. “Why don’t you stop? You let someone take that position. We can not allow the body of the pyramid to catch fire in the Netherlands. “

Voters have other issues on their minds, from climate change to housing shortages, health care funding, and the Netherlands’ place in Europe.

An initial version of Peilingwijzer, a respected poll of opinion polls, predicted that Rutte’s party would win 34 to 36 seats in the 150-seat lower house of parliament. Wilders’ party won 18-20 seats in the centrist D66 party, led by Sigrid Kaag, the country’s Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, who ran for office as a viable alternative to Rutte’s prime minister. The Netherlands has never had a woman as prime minister.

Voting began Monday through Tuesday, ostensibly for people at high risk for the virus. People over the age of 70 also had the opportunity to vote by mail.

The procedure for opening and counting ballots was to change in the middle of the election on Tuesday after what the Interior Ministry called “litigation errors” by voters sending mail on their ballots.

A record 37 parties are running in the election, with 17 predicting they will get enough votes in at least one seat in the 150-seat lower house of parliament, up from 13 in the previous election. This split in the political arena is likely to make the coalition negotiations a tough, long process.

Electoral officials had to expand their network in search of suitable places for polling stations so that they could provide enough space for social space among voters. Churches, concert halls and even the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam were put into service, while cars and bicycle voters could also vote in the car center of the Dutch capital.

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