Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s Liberal Party (VVD) formed a right-leaning coalition with the Christian Democrats (CDA) in October 2010.
The government resigned in April after its ally, Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party (PVV), refused to agree to budget cuts for 2013 needed to meet European Union limits on budget deficits.
The Dutch economy, the euro zone’s fifth largest, started growing again this year but at a weak pace due to reduced consumer spending and business investments.
A rising unemployment rate, falling house prices, government austerity measures, pension cuts and Europe’s debt crisis are all expected to keep weighing on growth.
A sustained economic recovery is not forecast until consumer confidence, which is near a 9-year low, improves.
The government economic forecaster, known as CPB, in August estimated the economy would contract 0.5 per cent in 2012, and forecast GDP growth of 0.75 per cent in 2013.
Two pro-European, political parties – the Liberal Party (VVD) and the Social Democrates (PvdA) – that backed euro zone bailouts are leading in the run-up to Wednesday’s election.
Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s fiscally conservative Liberal Party would win the most seats, a poll showed on Thursday, while the Labour Party, which is pro-euro but opposes tough austerity measures, would come a close second or on par.
The two parties, which have been partners in previous governments, could form a centre-right coalition with the support of just one other party such as the socially liberal D66 party, analysts said.
The Liberals would win 33 seats in the 150-seat parliament, followed by Labour with 30 seats, a poll showed on Thursday, however, other polls showed the two parties in dead heat for Wednesday’s vote.
Diederik Samsom, the Labour Party leader, seems to be the more popular candidate for the post of prime minister, with 47 per cent of those surveyed saying they would pick him, while only 42 per cent said they would choose Rutte, and 11 per cent said they had no preference.
Samsom came across as more worldly and more “prime ministerial” than Rutte in the debates.
“People want a statesman not a street fighter” at this time, Maurice De Hond, an poltical analyst told Reuters news agency.
“At a time of crisis you need to be able to cooperate not make enemies.”
Daily opinion polls by different agencies have shown that Labour’s popularity has surged, putting it just behind the Liberal Party, thanks to Samsom’s very strong performance in a series of televised debates.
In the run-up to Wednesday’s election, Europe and the eurozone’s sovereign debt crisis have dominated debates between Dutch party leaders.
Many voters are fed up with the perceived interference of Brussels in the national economy and having to pay off the debt of spendthrift southern European nations like Greece or Spain.
Wilders’ Party for Freedom (PVV) has openly made withdrawal from the EU and the eurozone its central issue, thanks to its campaign slogan: “Their Brussels, our Netherlands.”
The election is attracting plenty of attention abroad because of the potential consequences for Europe and the handling of the debt crisis.
As in other countries, the election has highlighted growing discontent among voters over Europe – in particular the need for belt-tightening at home and the high cost of bailing out weaker euro zone states.