Europe

Polls open in Dutch election that is barometer of populism

  • Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, left, and PVV party leader Geert Wilders, right, wait to take their turn in the closing debate at parliament in The Hague, Netherlands, Tuesday, March 14, 2017. Amid unprecedented international attention, the Dutch go to the polls Wednesday in a parliamentary election that is seen as a bellwether for the future of populism in a year of crucial votes in Europe. (Phil Nijhuis HH POOL via AP)

    Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, left, and PVV party leader Geert Wilders, right, wait to take their turn in the closing debate at parliament in The Hague, Netherlands, Tuesday, March 14, 2017. Amid unprecedented international attention, the Dutch go to the polls Wednesday in a parliamentary election that is seen as a bellwether for the future of populism in a year of crucial votes in Europe. (Phil Nijhuis HH POOL via AP)  (The Associated Press)

  • Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte answers questions after the closing debate at parliament in The Hague, Netherlands, Tuesday, March 14, 2017. Amid unprecedented international attention, the Dutch go to the polls Wednesday in a parliamentary election that is seen as a bellwether for the future of populism in a year of crucial votes in Europe. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

    Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte answers questions after the closing debate at parliament in The Hague, Netherlands, Tuesday, March 14, 2017. Amid unprecedented international attention, the Dutch go to the polls Wednesday in a parliamentary election that is seen as a bellwether for the future of populism in a year of crucial votes in Europe. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)  (The Associated Press)

  • Democrats 66 party leader Alexander Pechtold, right-wing populist leader Geert Wilders, Socialist Party leader Emile Roemer, Party for the Animals' Marianne Thieme, Green Left party leader Jesse Klaver, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, Gert-Jan Segers of the Christian Union, Labour Party leader Lodewijk Asscher, and Christan Democrats party leader Sybrand Buma, from left, pose for a picture after the closing debate at parliament in The Hague, Netherlands, Tuesday, March 14, 2017. Amid unprecedented international attention, the Dutch go to the polls Wednesday in a parliamentary election that is seen as a bellwether for the future of populism in a year of crucial votes in Europe. (Robin van Lonkhuijsen ANP POOL via AP)

    Democrats 66 party leader Alexander Pechtold, right-wing populist leader Geert Wilders, Socialist Party leader Emile Roemer, Party for the Animals' Marianne Thieme, Green Left party leader Jesse Klaver, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, Gert-Jan Segers of the Christian Union, Labour Party leader Lodewijk Asscher, and Christan Democrats party leader Sybrand Buma, from left, pose for a picture after the closing debate at parliament in The Hague, Netherlands, Tuesday, March 14, 2017. Amid unprecedented international attention, the Dutch go to the polls Wednesday in a parliamentary election that is seen as a bellwether for the future of populism in a year of crucial votes in Europe. (Robin van Lonkhuijsen ANP POOL via AP)  (The Associated Press)

Polling booths have opened across the nation in Dutch parliamentary elections, a vote that is being closely watched as a possible indicator of the strength of far-right populism ahead of national elections in France and Germany later this year.

Two-term Prime Minister Mark Rutte's right-wing VVD party was leading in polls ahead of Wednesday's vote, with the anti-Islam Party for Freedom of firebrand lawmaker Geert Wilders a close second.

Rutte has framed the vote as a choice between continuity and chaos, portraying himself as a safe custodian of this nation of 17 million's economic recovery, while casting Wilders as a far-right radical who would not be prepared to take tough decisions were he to gain office.