Voting underway in coronavirus-affected Dutch election

Voting underway in coronavirus-affected Dutch election


THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Socially distanced voters cast their ballots Monday in churches, conference centers and even the national parliament on the first day of a Dutch general election that has been spread over three days to allow people to vote safely during the coronavirus pandemic.

The COVID-19 crisis has been a dominant theme of the campaign, with opposition parties criticizing the government's handling of the health care emergency and candidates explaining how they will rebuild the economy when the virus recedes.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte's popularity soared last year as he guided the country through the pandemic, though it took a hit early this year when the Netherlands became the last European Union country to start its vaccination rollout.

“I think Rutte has done well," said Guido van den Elshout, 72, after voting in the Dutch parliament building in The Hague. "I don't vote for him. He is a good prime minister, but I think he is a bit past his sell-by date.”

Voting Monday started exactly a year after the first Dutch lockdown began and the country is in another tough lockdown amid stubbornly high infection numbers. More than 16,000 people are confirmed to have died of COVID-19 in the Netherlands, with a population of a little over 17 million people.

The conservative People’s Party of Freedom and Democracy, or VVD, led by Rutte, is forecast to win most seats in the 150-seat lower house of Parliament. That would put 54-year-old Rutte first in line to begin talks to form a new governing coalition. If he succeeds, he could become the longest-serving Dutch leader.

The pandemic's ongoing effects were clearly visible in the Dutch capital Amsterdam, where a drive-thru polling station for cars and bicycles opened at a conference center.

Voters could fill...

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