(Vatican Radio) The polls have opened in the Netherlands in a parliamentary election that could see an anti-Islam party win many seats. Wednesday's vote is held amid unprecedented international attention as it is seen as a barometer of populism in Europe where several elections are held this year.
Listen to Stefan Bos' report
The polls have opened early, as the world watches a major political battle. It pitches current Prime Minister Mark Rutte's liberal People's Party for Freedom and Democracy, the VVD, against the anti-Islam Party for Freedom, or PVV, of populist politician Geert Wilders.
The vote has been overshadowed by tensions with Turkey and a debate about Dutch identity and how to integrate many migrants in this this low-lying country of 17 million people, parts of which hunker below sea level.
Just hours before the elections began, Wilders defended his fiercely anti-Islam rhetoric. "The Netherlands does not belong to everyone. The Netherlands belongs to the Dutch people," Wilders said during a televised debate.
"Do you hear it? The Netherlands belongs to the Dutch people. People who for 100 percent were choosing to live in our nation."
That led to an angry reaction from the leader of the leftist Labour Party or PvdA. "The Netherlands belongs to everyone and to all those people who do their best work," argued PvdA leader Lodewijk Asscher. "Everyone who participates is welcome. Every person who is offended by you has more decency in his or her pinky than you and your whole party faction," he told Wilders.
Liberal Prime Minister Mark Rutte has already ruled out a coalition government with Wilders' PVV party.
Though he is not expected to be able to become prime minister, polls suggest that many are expected to vote for Wilders who has called Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orbán a "European hero".
Orbán, who critics view as increasingly authoritarian, sealed of off southern borders with fences to halt the influx of people fleeing war and poverty.
The election in the Netherlands are closely followed internationally as they come ahead of polls in France and Germany over the next half year.
Right-wing nationalists are expected to be key players amid a wider debate in Europe about the influx of refugees.