Dutch Voting With Poll Showing Liberals and Labor Are Tied

Labor Party Leader Diederik Samsom
Labor Party Leader Diederik Samsom casts his ballot at a polling station in Leiden. Phtographer: Robin Utrecht/AFP/Getty Images

Dutch voters are casting ballots in today’s election, with the campaign’s final poll showing Diederik Samsom’s opposition Labor Party in a virtual tie with Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s Liberal Party.

The Labor Party, which calls for easing budget-deficit cutting to boost growth, would take 34 seats, while the Liberals would win 35, a TNS NIPO poll showed yesterday. Labor was eight seats behind the Liberals a week ago. The survey of 1,917 people had a margin of error of two to three seats.

Results matching the polls may yield a return of the grand coalition that governed for eight years until 2002, making unlikely a shift in direction in Dutch backing for German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s austerity-first approach toward the euro-area financial crisis.

“The most likely outcome remains a centrist, pragmatic coalition, which clearly is the preferred option in Brussels and Berlin,” according to the London-based research institute Open Europe. “The Dutch elections are therefore unlikely to radically change the immediate political dynamics of the eurozone crisis in the short-term.”

Neither of the leading parties’ preferred partners would have enough seats to allow a majority in the 150-seat parliament in The Hague, according to the poll.

‘Tight Race’

“It is obvious that this has become a very tight race between Labor and the Liberals,” TNS NIPO said in a statement with the survey, describing the vote as “too close to call.”

The poll showed anti-immigrant leader Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party would get 17 seats, down from 24 currently; the Christian Democrats would fall to 12 from 21; the Socialists would gain 21 from 15 and D66 would get 13, up from 10.

Polling stations opened at 7:30 a.m. and turnout at around 2:00 p.m. was 27 percent, polling firm Ipsos Synovate said. A first exit poll will be released by Ipsos Synovate shortly after voting ends at 9 p.m. Preliminary results are expected around midnight. The result may be as close as in 2010 when Labor lost the election to the Liberals with a difference of 80,770 votes from a total of 9.4 million. Turnout in 2010 was 75.4 percent out of a total of 12.5 million eligible voters.

Rutte has backed Merkel as she staved off calls to provide more aid to cash-strapped southern European countries. At the same time, he has drawn criticism from some opposition parties for helping out Greece while cutting back pensions and health-care spending. Samsom is willing to extend Greece’s financial lifeline while Rutte won’t back a third aid package.

‘Paris, Berlin’

“It is wrong to assume that this crisis will be solved by a choice between Paris or Berlin,” Samsom said in a televised debate yesterday. “Europe is not about axes, Europe is about cooperation. Otherwise you will never get out of this crisis.”

Elections were called after Rutte’s Cabinet resigned on April 23, when Wilders, who had been backing a minority government of Liberals and Christian Democrats, withdrew support over proposed spending cuts and tax increases. Rutte won backing from opposition parties for an austerity package three days later.

Under the Dutch electoral system, shares of the vote translate directly into seats in the lower house, with 0.67 percent of the nationwide vote enough for a seat. That can lead to a glut of parties in parliament, meaning it could take months for a coalition to be formed.

As one of the euro area’s four countries with a top AAA grade, demand for Dutch debt survived the collapse of Rutte’s government with investors focused on the nation’s relative fiscal strength as a haven from Europe’s market turbulence.

The Dutch economy may shrink this year, according to the median of 11 economist forecasts gathered by Bloomberg. An unemployment rate of 6.5 percent, the highest in seven years, is still the second-lowest in the euro area after Austria.

The Netherlands yesterday sold 2 billion euros ($2.6 billion) of 10-year bonds at the lowest yield in at least five years, signaling investor confidence in the country’s budget discipline.

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