|Diederik Samsom, leader of Dutch Labor Party (PvdA), casts his vote at a polling station in Leiden of the Netherlands, on Sept. 12, 2012. Voters across the Netherlands started to cast ballots on Wednesday morning in the general elections in which the center-right liberal party VVD and center-left Labor party PvdA are wrestling to be the biggest party of the country. (Xinhua/Sylvia Lederer)
THE HAGUE, Sept. 12 (Xinhua) -- Voters across the Netherlands started to cast ballots on Wednesday morning in the general elections in which the center-right liberal party VVD and center-left Labor party PvdA are wrestling to be the biggest party of the country.
In previous national elections over the past decade, political campaigns focused on the Islam, integration and immigration. This time, the economy, the euro zone crisis, employment and costs of care dominated debates in recent weeks.
Over 10,000 polling stations opened from 7:30 a.m. local time (0530 GMT) to 9:00 p.m. (1900 GMT). An expected turnout of 75 percent of the 12 million registered voters will elect the 150 members of parliament, the so-called Second Chamber of the States-General.
The People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) of outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte was the favorite in the opinion polls for weeks, but in recent weeks the PvdA led by Diederik Samsom made a strong comeback.
"I will continue on the path we have set, on the track we have chosen, which means we are willing and prepared to help our colleagues in the rest of Europe to come out of this crisis stronger, because our pensions, our savings depend on it," Rutte told Xinhua after he voted on his former primary school in The Hague.
"At the same time, the Germans, the Finns, have made clear that Greece and others have to live up to what they have promised to do, and if not, we cannot help them. So to stay in that course, which is strong, which is aimed at creating more jobs in the Netherlands, that's what I will fight for to continue," he said.
Rutte's main rival Samsom voted in Leiden.
"It will be an exciting day," he said. "One more day to make the Netherlands stronger and more social. Take this chance, I would say."
Whatever the outcome, both parties might need each other to form a government, an option neither of them prefer. Rutte even called this coalition "unlikely."
Other choices for forming a coalition government are the Socialist Party SP of Emile Roemer, which witnessed a free fall in the polls in recent weeks, the right-wing populist Party of Freedom PVV of Geert Wilders, D66 (Democrats), CDA (Christian Democrats), GroenLinks (GreenLeft) and ChristenUnie (Christian Union).
Two years ago, the VVD won the general elections with only one seat ahead of the PvdA. After long negotiations, a minority government was formed by the VVD and the CDA. The two parties made a policy agreement with the PVV in order to achieve a small majority in the parliament. In April, the minority government led by Rutte fell apart after a disagreement over the budget and austerity measures.
PVV leader Wilders hopes to repeat the success of his party two years ago when they grabbed 24 seats. "I am very confident," he said after voting in The Hague.
Preliminary results will be out late in the evening. It will be a close battle again and the winner will have the first chance to form a government.