Mark Rutte: Dutch PM’s poll lead shrinks as election enters second day


AMSTERDAM: The lead of Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte‘s conservative party in polls continued to shrink Tuesday, according to a new survey published before the second day of voting in the coronavirus-affected national election.
Rutte’s People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy still retains a lead of around 10 percentage points over its nearest rival, the anti-immigration Party for Freedom led by anti-Islam firebrand Geert Wilders.
According to the respected Peilingwijzer survey of different opinion polls, Rutte’s party is in line to win between 34 and 38 seats in the 150-seat lower house of parliament. Wilders’ party is forecast to win 17-21 seats.
Rutte has led the last three Dutch ruling coalitions and has been in power for more than a decade. His popularity soared last year as he repeatedly appeared on television to solemnly explain the government’s efforts to rein in the spread of the coronavirus. However, it has waned in recent weeks as the election nears and public impatience with the country’s tough lockdown increases.
Even some voters who are generally satisfied with his handling of the pandemic are looking elsewhere.
“Yes, as prime minister I think he has done well. I also find him quite sympathetic, but I did not vote for him,” said Wilbert Vrijburg, a 31-year-old who works for a hi-tech startup, after he voted for pro-European party Volt in The Hague.
“I think it is an important extra voice in the Dutch parliament,” he said.
Interior Minister Kajsa Ollongren said on Tuesday in a letter to Parliament that she will tell municipalities that are responsible for counting votes to amend the way they deal with postal votes after reports emerged Monday of what her ministry called “procedural mistakes” with postal votes.
“If people have made this mistake by accident but had the intention, of course, to vote, then it is not fair” if their votes aren’t counted, Ollongren told reporters in The Hague.
National broadcaster NOS reported that a number of municipalities said some postal votes could be invalid because the voters hadn’t followed instructions correctly when mailing their ballot paper.
The broadcaster reported from the small municipality of Bernheze that 1,688 people voted by mail and 143 of the votes could be invalid.
The increased use of postal voting for people age 70 and over is among measures intended to make the election safe amid stubbornly high coronavirus infection rates in the Netherlands, a nation of just over 17 million where more than 16,000 people are confirmed to have died of Covid-19.
Voting has been spread out over three days, starting Monday, with the first two days intended to allow people who are considered more vulnerable to the virus to vote in polling stations that aren’t as busy as on normal election days.
Sandra Neerbos, 49, took advantage of the early voting in The Hague. She said her most important themes were health care and security.
“I think it’s important that the health care system is well handled because it has suffered major budget cuts,” she said.
The final day of voting is Wednesday and results are expected to begin rolling in after polling stations close at 9 p.m. (2000 GMT) and into Thursday.
Across the country, thousands of locations from churches to cinemas have been pressed into action as voting locations by officials seeking larger spaces to allow social distancing.
On Tuesday, staff at Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum were maneuvering voting booths into place near the museum’s shop, which has been closed for months because of the tough coronavirus lockdown. Across a busy road, the city’s Concert Gebouw set up booths under ornate chandeliers of the building’s Mirror Hall.
The party that wins the most seats is first in line to lead talks to form the next ruling coalition. If that is Rutte, and he succeeds in cobbling together a new government, he could become the country’s longest-serving prime minister.

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