Amsterdam: Voter turnout in Wednesday's Dutch parliamentary election was far higher than five years ago according to pollster Ipsos, which is conducting an exit poll.
At 1245 GMT, when polls had been open for just over six hours, turnout was estimated at 33 per cent, compared to 27 per cent at the last election in 2012, when final turnout was 74.6 per cent.
With voting booths open until 2000 GMT, this year's election is one of the closest in memory, with five different parties jostling for first and second places in a highly fragmented parliament, according to polls.
The centre-right VVD party of Prime Minister Mark Rutte, 50, is vying with the PVV (Party for Freedom) and anti-EU firebrand Geert Wilders, 53, to form the biggest party in parliament. As many as 13 million voters began casting ballots at polling stations across the country. A charged campaign, plus clear skies and sunshine meant high turnout was expected.
With as many as four out of 10 voters undecided a day before voting and a tight margin of just 4 per cent between leading candidates, the outcome was unpredictable. Wilders has virtually no chance of forming a government given that all the leading parties have ruled out working with him, but a PVV win would still send shockwaves across Europe.
The vote is the first gauge this year of anti-establishment sentiment in the European Union and the bloc's chances of survival after the surprise victory of EU-sceptic Donald Trump in the United States and Britain's 2016 vote to exit the union.
"What I call the patriotic parties are gaining some momentum... but whatever the outcome of the election today the genie will not go back into the bottle and this patriotic revolution, whether today or tomorrow, will take place," Wilders said after voting at a school in The Hague.
Wilders' appeal had won over Wendy de Graaf, who dropped her children off at the same school."I hope he can make a change to make the Netherlands better.. I don't agree with everything he says... but I feel that immigration is a problem," she said.
France chooses its next president in May, with far-right Marine Le Pen set to make the second-round run-off, while in September right-wing eurosceptic party Alternative for Germany, which has attacked Chancellor Angela Merkel's open-door refugee policy, will probably win its first lower house seats.
Rutte, who has called the Dutch vote a quarterfinal before a French semifinal and German final said a Wilders victory would be felt well beyond the Netherlands.
"I think the rest of the world will then see after Brexit, after the American elections again the wrong sort of populism has won the day," he said.
Late opinion polls indicated a three percentage point lead for his party over Wilders', with a slight boost from a rupture of diplomatic relations with Ankara after the Dutch banned Turkish ministers from addressing rallies of overseas Turks.