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The Netherlands heads to the polls

Geert Wilders, leader of the Freedom Party
Jasper Juinen | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Geert Wilders, leader of the Freedom Party

Dutch voters head to the polls Wednesday to elect their new government.

The electoral race has been the tightest in the country's recent history, marred by political turmoil and rising nationalist sentiment.

Current polls suggest that incumbent Prime Minister Mark Rutte is marginally ahead, buoyed by recent support following a diplomatic row with Turkey.

However, with forecasts suggesting that Rutte's Liberal Party could win 26 of a total 150 parliamentary seats – short of the necessary 76 for a majority – a coalition government is highly likely. Analysts suggest this could require four to six parties - and weeks of negotiations.

Geert Wilders, leader of the far-right Freedom Party, has slipped from favor in recent days despite gaining significant support for his anti-immigration policies. Polls place him in second position, with 21 seats, but it is considered unlikely that he will gain a place in a new coalition government, given that most other parties have ruled out working with him.

Speaking to CNBC Wednesday, Jesse Klaver, leader of the Netherlands' Green Party, said he blamed Rutte's VVD party for the rise of Wilders, and said he would be reluctant to form a coalition with either party.

"I don't want to go into government with the VVD. I want the beat the VVD. Even if they are the biggest party in the election, I think we have to make sure that there is a center-left government.

He added that he had "zero empathy" with Wilders but said he had understood his supporters' concerns.

"I have sympathy and empathy for his voters, that's why I tried to reach out. Their concerns are real."

Wednesday's Dutch general election, the first of several major European elections scheduled for this year, is seen as especially significant this year in indicating populist sentiment across Europe.

The country gained further attention over the weekend when it blocked Turkish ministers from campaigning in its port city of Rotterdam, prompting allegations of "Nazism" from the Turkish government in what it felt was an attack on its freedom of speech.

Rutte told CNBC yesterday that Turkey's comments, and subsequent threat of sanctions, were "increasingly hysterical".