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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 November 2006, 11:47 GMT
Dutch bewildered by poll options
By Sam Wilson
BBC News, Amsterdam

A ballot paper
Huge ballot papers confuse some
With 24 parties and hundreds of individual candidates on each ballot paper, it is no wonder that so many Dutch people have left it to the last minute to decide who to vote for.

Those arriving early on Wednesday morning, as the odd patch of blue began to emerge from the drizzly skies, were probably among the more resolute.

"I've always voted left of centre," said publisher Wouter Van Oorschot. "I voted PvdA [Labour] today as I want to get rid of this right-wing government. They are a Christian-led government and therefore unreliable."

Others cited the Iraq war, integration and immigration, the welfare system, the economy and business regulation as factors influencing their vote.

Red pencils

But the 113 voters that had arrived at the polling station at Amsterdam's Rembrandt Square in the first hour and three-quarters of voting did not look like much more than a trickle, although the chief electoral officer seemed quite pleased with progress.

Dutch voters in Amsterdam give their views on the elections

Dyngeman Coumou and his team were also rather excited by the cake that was delivered to them first thing, courtesy of a bunch of "computer freaks".

The electronics wizards had demonstrated that the automatic voting machines due to be used were unreliable, as people with special equipment outside the building would be able to tell which votes were being registered.

The system had therefore been abandoned in favour of red pencils in some polling stations and huge (about 80cm x 50cm or 31 inches x 20 inches) ballot papers.

The cake was their way of apologising.

'Internet advisers'

Unfortunately, before Mr Coumou could be persuaded to open the box, a queue of voters appeared from the tram outside.

A bike near a polling station in Amsterdam
Many people cycled to vote

Most people, though, arrived by bicycle or on foot. "That is very Dutch, no?" asked one elderly voter, parking his bike.

But while people arrived in dribs and drabs, others scurried past the building.

Would they be voting today? Some, it seemed, had still not made up their minds.

Anouk Van Der Brink, 28, a shop assistant, says she will resort to the internet site that helps wavering voters nail down their choice, as she did in the last election.

"Last time it prompted me to vote for the VVD [Liberal] party," she says. "I don't agree with everything they say, but I understand their views on immigration. We are a small country, and people should integrate well and live as the Dutch do."

More than a quarter of voters are said to have consulted this website, Stemwijzer.nl, and if people follow its recommendations, the governing CDA [Christian Democrats] could be in for a good day.

The site directed 18% to the CDA, 16% to the Socialists, 13% to Labour and only 4% to the VVD.

Tactical voting

The Green-Left and Christian Unity may do well enough to force themselves onto a coalition.

A slogan of the Dutch Party for the Animals
The Party for the Animals could pick up several seats, polls suggest

Of the other parties hoping to get into parliament for the first time, one of the most likely is the Party for the Animals, which is forecast in polls to pick up one or two seats, while several right-wing parties are also on the margins.

And then voters have to consider whether to vote tactically.

Aernout, 31, says he is disillusioned with the government, but he backed the Socialists, rather than the main opposition party, the PvdA, because he feels the latter will just join a coalition with the governing CDA.

Instead, he hopes the Socialists and Labour will be able to form a left-wing coalition.

Dutch voters on the tough immigration laws

Dutch emerge from doldrums
20 Nov 06 |  Europe
Country profile: The Netherlands
25 Jul 06 |  Country profiles
Liberalism under pressure
05 Jun 06 |  Magazine

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