Thousands protest against gov’t on eve of Dutch election


THE HAGUE, Netherlands — On the eve of the Netherlands’ general election, some 2,000 people gathered in The Hague on Sunday to protest against the government and its tough coronavirus lockdown.

Several people carried a homemade banner emblazoned with the text in Dutch “Love & Freedom: No Dictatorship,” many others carried yellow umbrellas. Another demonstrator carried a makeshift set of stocks with a photo of Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s head stuck in the middle and a sign saying: “If you love the Netherlands, vote them out.”

A heavy police presence ringed the park where the demonstrators gathered, and police tweeted before the scheduled start of the event that the maximum number of participants already had been reached. Hundreds more people arrived after the tweet.

Although the protest was generally peaceful, police tweeted that they arrested one man for attacking an officer with a stick.

Trains heading to The Hague were halted to prevent more people making their way to the city.

In recent weeks, smaller demonstrations have happened in Amsterdam, with riot police repeatedly called in to shepherd away protesters who refuse to leave.

They reflect a growing impatience among a small section of society at the lockdown that has seen businesses including bars, restaurants and museums shut down since mid-October. Despite the lockdown, numbers of infections remain stubbornly high. More than 16,000 people are confirmed to have died of COVID-19 in the Netherlands.

Meanwhile, party leaders took to the airwaves to seek the support of undecided voters but also to start jockeying for position ahead of the formation of the country’s next governing coalition.

In a television talk show airing Sunday evening on national broadcaster NPO1, Christian Democrat leader Wopke Hoekstra said he would prefer to continue ruling in the outgoing four-party coalition led by Rutte.

Rutte, in turn, said the Christian Democrats are the most natural partner for his conservative People’s Party for Freedom of Democracy.

“This is a real bromance,” said Jesse Klaver, leader of the Green Left party.

The comments foreshadow what could be a lengthy process of forming the next coalition after three days of coronavirus-affected voting wrap up Wednesday night.

A record 37 parties are taking part in the election for the 150 seats in Parliament’s lower house. The party that wins the most seats will be first in line to lead talks to form the next coalition, but with so many parties likely to enter Parliament it could be difficult to form a coalition that commands a majority.

If, as polls predict, Rutte’s party emerges with the largest number of seats he would be in a position to form his fourth ruling coalition and become the Netherlands’ longest-serving premier.

A limited number of polling stations are opening Monday and Tuesday, primarily to allow people considered vulnerable to the coronavirus to vote. Wednesday is the main day of voting and results will likely be known Wednesday night and into Thursday.

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