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Dutch Go to Polls in National Elections Amid Economic Fears

  • Lauren Comiteau

Dutch voters are voting in national elections, the first in a eurozone country since the collapse of the Greek economy.
When the Netherlands' elections were called a few months ago, the big issue was immigration.

The battle then was largely between populist Geert Wilders, who advocates taxing headscarves and banning the Koran, and a champion of integration, Job Cohen, the popular Amsterdam mayor who held his city together after an Islamic extremist murdered filmmaker Theo van Gogh in 2004.

But as the financial crisis hit Europe, voter's priorities shifted, as Dutch pollster Maurice de Hond explains.

"This campaign was clearly only about economics and only about how do we do the cuts in government," said Maurice de Hond. "Therefore the liberal-conservative party will most likely be the winner for the first time in history."

The Netherlands has to cut some nearly $36 billion from its budget in the next five years. And the majority of voters believe Mark Rutte's liberal-conservative VVD Party has the soundest economic plan to do just that. But Job Cohen's Labor Party was in a close second place in public-opinion polls. Building a coalition is not expected to be easy.

And although Geert Wilders has seen his support drop, his party is still expected to double its seats in Parliament, meaning it too could be part of a ruling coalition.

But voters at an elementary school in a well-off neighborhood in the center of Amsterdam appear to be bucking the national trend. They are decidedly left of center. They say their concern is less on the economy and more on stopping the right-wing agenda of anti-Islamist Wilders.

PERSON 1: "My main concern is that Wilders will somehow become part of our government."

PERSON 2: "Without a strong economy we cannot be as progressive and have a fantastic social network for all the poor people in Holland."

In the final TV debates Tuesday, the candidates made their last appeals to voters. One in five of them are still undecided. Although the winners and losers will be known soon after the polls close, the shape of the next government will likely remain a mystery for weeks.