LEIDEN, the Netherlands — Voters within the Netherlands solid their ballots on Wednesday in one of many first main European elections to happen in the course of the coronavirus pandemic that has swept throughout the continent in successive waves.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s liberal-right Social gathering for Freedom and Democracy had been main within the polls as much as the vote Wednesday, regardless of a scandal over a advantages crackdown focusing on primarily poor households that brought down his government in January, setting him on target for a fourth time period.

Different front-runners to guide a brand new authorities are Geert Wilders, a populist who has opposed immigration from Muslim nations and known as for a ban of the Quran, together with his Social gathering for Freedom, and Sigrid Kaag, a former United Nations particular envoy for Syria, who’s main D66, a liberal-democratic celebration. A number of special-interest events, supporting Europe, equal rights and different particular agendas are anticipated to get seats for the primary time.

The election is being carefully watched for insights into the endurance of the wave of populism that has swept the continent prior to now 20 years and introduced politicians like Mr. Wilders to prominence. One other right-wing celebration, the Forum voor Democratie, led by Thierry Baudet, was doing effectively within the polls final summer time, earlier than the election was known as, however infighting led to some distinguished politicians leaving and beginning their very own celebration.

“Up to now 20 years populist events, at most, have gotten a mixed results of 18.7 % of the votes throughout Dutch nationwide elections,” mentioned Tom-Jan Meeus, a political columnist for NRC Handelsblad. He mentioned he was utilizing that as a yardstick to measure the success of the events within the election Wednesday, noting that they might endure if turnout was low.

The elections are one of many first to happen in Europe because the coronavirus broke out final spring, sparking repeated lockdowns throughout the continent because the dying toll grew. Portugal voted in presidential elections in January, re-electing the center-right Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa for a second time period in workplace.

The pandemic has modified the same old dynamic of organizing elections within the Netherlands, however didn’t appear to have an effect on turnout on Wednesday. Lengthy traces of socially-distanced voters stood ready within the early afternoon within the historic heart of Leiden, a college city close to The Hague. At many polling stations voters had been allowed to take dwelling the pink pencils they used to solid their ballots, a measure to assist forestall the virus from spreading.

“There is no such thing as a approach anybody can get corona with all these measures,” mentioned Niels Romijn, a civil servant, as he entered a public library to solid his poll. “All people was tremendous chill,” he mentioned, fortunately displaying off his free pink pencil. “Civil obligation,” he mentioned with amusing.

Polling stations had been open nationwide since Monday to permit susceptible voters to keep away from crowds. Voters over 70 had been inspired to vote by mail. And campaigning primarily came about on tv, making it exhausting for voters to spontaneously confront politicians as is typical follow within the Netherlands.

Coronavirus instances are as soon as once more surging within the Netherlands, prompting the authorities to warn of a 3rd wave. Final 12 months, it took Mr. Rutte’s authorities until November to ramp up testing, and now, the vaccination course of has been advancing slowly.

Nonetheless, native points, not the federal government’s dealing with of the coronavirus, dominated the election marketing campaign.

Mr. Rutte and his cupboard resigned in January over a scandal involving the tax authorities’ focusing on of individuals, largely poor, who had made administrative errors of their requests for baby advantages. Many had been ruined financially after being compelled to pay again advantages to which that they had been entitled.

Broader liberal market insurance policies put ahead by Mr. Rutte, who has been in energy since 2010, had been additionally a deal with the marketing campaign path, with opponents questioning his authorities’s repeated cutbacks in well being care, policing and different important companies.

Whereas his Social gathering for Freedom and Democracy is forward within the polls, it has misplaced some assist in latest weeks, doubtlessly undermining his place.

Mr. Rutte has dominated out any type of cooperation with Mr. Wilders’ Freedom Social gathering, which means that he’ll probably have to have interaction with extra left-leaning events.