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Polls Open In Closely Watched Dutch Elections


Polls are now open in the Netherlands for an election that many around the world are watching closely. It is seen as a potential test of the power of populism in Europe after the United Kingdom's vote to leave the European Union and the victory of Donald Trump here in the U.S. NPR's Frank Langfitt is at a polling station in Amsterdam. And he joins me now. Good morning, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: Frank, remind everyone why this race is getting so much attention.

LANGFITT: Well, they're really two words - Geert Wilders. He's the right wing populist candidate here. He's anti-immigration, anti-refugee, anti-Islam. His slogan is let's make the Netherlands ours again. And he's been playing to a lot of anxiety here over social tensions with immigrant communities that have come in many years ago from North Africa but also Europe's refugee crisis. Fifty thousand people came here in 2015. So there's a lot for him to work with, frankly.

MARTIN: What are you seeing and hearing at the polls this morning?

LANGFITT: Well, I'm in north Amsterdam. It's a mix of white Dutch and immigrants. And turnout is a little lower than before. But it's still earlier in the day. The last election was 2012. A lot of support here for left wing parties, lots of criticism for Wilders. I was speaking with a woman who works here in the city government. Her name is Andrika Blooming (ph). She's in her late 30s. And here's what she had to say.

ANDRIKA BLOOMING: Well, I'm quite ashamed of the guy and how he's making the Netherlands look really stupid. And on the other hand, he has a voice that people like, a lot of people in the Netherlands. So that's really worrying.

MARTIN: So she says there are a lot of people who appreciate what Wilders is saying. What are you hearing this morning from Wilders supporters?

LANGFITT: I haven't met many here this morning. But I was down south in Wilders country over the weekend where he was campaigning. And a lot of people were saying that the government seems more concerned about refugees than native-born Dutch.

And I also met this Wilders supporter. His name's Ralph Jansen (ph). He's a CPA. And he says that a lot of the backers for Wilder's party - it's called the Party for Freedom, PVV for short - is - a lot of supporters are a lot broader than people think. It's a much broader demographic. And here's how Jansen put it.

RALPH JANSEN: The Dutch people think that all the voters of the PVV are low educated, low paid, stupid people, and they just go for a populist guy but I'm not. I'm working for European Commission in Brussels. I have a very high education. So I know what I'm talking about. I'm not stupid guy. But still I vote for him.

MARTIN: It's interesting. There are some parallels to the U.S. presidential election that we just had.

LANGFITT: There were a lot of parallels here, Rachel, between what we saw in the United States during basically Trump's election also in Brexit it in the U.K., which I covered. You hear a lot of those same kinds of tensions both economically and in terms of people's views of migrants.

The question is, how's he going to do today? He'd been leading the polls for a long time. So he's getting a ton of attention internationally. But he has been slipping recently. And there are a lot of Dutch voters, even people who like Wilders, who say he's a bit too extreme. So it's going to be very, very interesting to see how this all turns out.

MARTIN: NPR's Frank Langfitt in Amsterdam. Thanks so much, Frank.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Rachel.

(SOUNDBITE OF TYCHO'S "DIVISION") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.
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