Polls open until 9pm in Dutch referendum

1st June 2005, Comments 0 comments

1 June 2005, AMSTERDAM — Polling booths opened at 7.30am across the Netherlands for the nation's first referendum in 200 years with Dutch voters set to decide the fate of the EU Constitution.

1 June 2005

AMSTERDAM — Polling booths opened at 7.30am across the Netherlands for the nation's first referendum in 200 years with Dutch voters set to decide the fate of the EU Constitution.

Dutch nationals, but not expats, are allowed to vote and polling stations will remain open until 9pm, when the first exit polls will be available.

However, polls have regularly tipped a majority of voters to reject the constitution, with as many as 60 percent of voters prepared to vote 'no'. Between 45 and 60 percent of voters will cast a ballot.

Research bureau TNS Nipo said the 20 percent gap between yes and no voters can no longer be closed. Interview-NSS predicted a strong finish by yes voters, with 46 percent of voters in favour and 54 percent opposed to the constitution.

After the French 'non' vote on Sunday, a similar result at the Dutch referendum is being considered as the last nail in the coffin for the constitution.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair might decide against holding a referendum over the constitution, or ask Parliament to vote on the treaty should the Dutch vote no.

Such a result would be a major setback for the Dutch government, which like several opposition parties, has been campaigning intensively for a 'yes vote'.

Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende urged voters on Tuesday night to back the constitution, stressing "if you want to move the economy forward you must vote yes".

"I believe a no vote is not in the interest of the Netherlands or in the interest of Europe," the Christian Democrat CDA leader said in a televised interview.

In trying to ally fears, Balkenende said "the Netherlands will keep its own role and its own responsibility in Europe", adding that "the future of the Netherlands is in Europe".

Leading politicians on the yes and no camps also appeared in a series of debates on Dutch television on Tuesday night in a last ditch effort to convince voters of their arguments.

However, Foreign Affairs Minister Ben Bot was the first Cabinet member to admit  possible defeat, telling US broadcaster CNN that he had hoped for a "neck and neck race". But based on polls, he said it appears the result will be 'no'.

Opponents to the constitution are expected to demand the resignation of various government ministers, such as Bot or European Affairs State Secretary Atzo Nicolai.

In France, Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin resigned following his nation's 'non' vote on Sunday. He was replaced on Tuesday by Dominique de Villepin, formerly the French interior minister.

However, Balkenende and other government ministers have dismissed similar political consequences in the Netherlands, while other observers have pointed out the referendum was called at the insistence of parliament, not the government.

Parliament will debate the result of the referendum on Thursday and despite the advisory nature of the plebiscite, the major political parties have promised to respect the outcome if a sufficient number of voters cast a ballot.

Foreign media are highly interested in the Dutch poll, with 200 to 300 journalists from Brussels alone descending on The Hague. Sixteen BBC journalists will be reporting on the referendum.

[Copyright Expatica News + ANP 2005]

Subject: Dutch news

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