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Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Dutch polls open in crucial provincial vote (Netherlands)

Polling stations opened in the Netherlands for a vote that will determine whether or not the government, backed by an anti-Islam party, obtains a crucial senate majority.

"The polling stations are open. So far, there have been no reports of problems," an official at the electoral council's information centre told AFP, shortly after about 10,000 ballot stations opened at 7:30 am (0630 GMT).

In an unusually closely watched election for the country's 12 provincial councils, voters will choose 566 deputies charged in turn with electing, along party lines, the 75-member upper house of parliament, or senate, on May 23.

Almost 30 parties will contest Wednesday's elections in which about 13 million of the Netherlands' 16.5 million citizens are eligible to vote until 9:00 pm.

A minority, rightist government of the pro-business VVD and Christian Democratic CDA that came to power in national elections last June, already relies on an unstable pact with anti-Islam MP Geert Wilders's Party for Freedom (PVV) to pass laws through the 150-seat lower house.

It now needs majority support (38 votes) in the veto-wielding senate to pass laws as part of its rightist programme of budget cuts and tougher immigration measures, much maligned by the opposition.

Stressing it was too close to call, the latest opinion polls predicted 37 senate seats for the VVD-CDA-PVV alliance.

If correct, this will be the first government since World War I to see a senate elected in which it has no majority, forcing it to lobby for legislative support among opposition parties.

Analysts say that repeated senate rejection of its bills would leave the government no option but to quit.

The first exit polls are expected at 9:00 pm. The official outcome will be announced "a few days later", according to the electoral council.

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