Polls open in Dutch parliamentary election

More than two dozen parties are contesting the election

Polls open in Dutch parliamentary election

Geert Wilders prepares to cast his vote for the Dutch general election in The Hague, Netherlands. Picture by: Peter Dejong/AP/Press Association Images

The Dutch have begun voting in a parliamentary election that is expected to produce the most fragmented political landscape in the history of the country.

28 parties from across the political spectrum are contesting the election.

Most of the international focus has been on the controversial right-wing populist Geert Wilders, whose Party for Freedom is expected to perform well.

The election in the Netherlands comes ahead of polls in France and Germany, when right-wing nationalists will also be key players.

During a final election debate among leaders from the parties vying for seats and control of the government, Mr Wilders continued with his anti-Islam rhetoric, while incumbent Prime Minister Mark Rutte sought to highlight his leadership experience.

The final days of campaigning have been overshadowed by a diplomatic crisis between the Dutch and Turkish governments.

Over the weekend, police used water cannon, horses and dogs to break up the pro-Turkey demonstration attended by hundreds as some activists threw bottles and stones.

The protest came after two Turkish ministers were stopped from campaigning in the Netherlands in favour of giving Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan more powers in a referendum.

Turkey has since suspended high-level diplomatic relations with the Netherlands.

Mr Rutte has driven through unpopular austerity measures over the last four years, but the Dutch economic recovery has gathered pace recently and unemployment has fallen fast.

Geert Wilders has been tapping into discontent among voters who say they are not benefiting from economic recovery.

While Mark Rutte's ruling VVD party holds a narrow lead over Wilders in most polls, other parties are also still in the running and well placed to play a role in forming the next coalition.

The VVD and other major parties have ruled out joining a coalition with Mr Wilders' party, with Mr Rutte earlier this year proclaiming: “The chances that the VVD will rule with PVV are zero. It's not going to happen.”