THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — A glance at the leaders of the main parties taking part in Wednesday's Dutch elections.
MARK RUTTE, VVD:
The nation's first-ever leader from the free-market VVD party, Rutte lasted only 18 months in office before his right-wing minority coalition collapsed amid negotiations to hammer out an austerity package aimed at reining in the Dutch national debt.
Throughout his term, Rutte was a staunch supporter of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her tough line with debt-ridden European Union nations like Greece and Portugal.
Rutte, 45, is a former personnel manager with Dutch multinational Unilever who won his party's leadership in a bruising battle with popular former immigration minister Rita Verdonk in 2006. He cemented his position by kicking Verdonk out of the party in 2007 after she criticized him for being silent on the immigration issue.
Rutte also is notable for being the country's first-ever bachelor prime minister.
DIEDERIK SAMSOM, Labor Party:
Labor Leader Diederik Samsom is a famously brainy nuclear physicist who was an environmental activist with Greenpeace and ran a green energy company before entering politics.
The 41-year-old father of two is also known for spending a year as a part-time "street coach" in one of Amsterdam's most run-down neighborhoods. There he came into contact with disenchanted and unemployed youths, many of them Muslims from Morocco, who struggled to fit into Dutch society amid rising anti-Islam sentiment.
Samsom's star began rising fast in the campaign as the popularity of the more radical left-wing Socialist Party waned. He was repeatedly declared winner of televised debates in which he stood out through his measured tone and lack of political grandstanding.
Winning on TV is nothing new to Samsom, who is a serial victor in highbrow televised quizzes. He reportedly stopped entering them after his wife told him the country now knows how smart he is.
GEERT WILDERS, Freedom Party:
Anti-Islam lawmaker Wilders soared to an unprecedented position of power in the last national elections, winning 24 seats for his Freedom Party on the back of widespread discontent at the growth of Islam in Dutch society and pledges to turn back the tide of immigration.
His party did not join Prime Minister Mark Rutte's minority coalition cabinet, but agreed to support it on key votes in return for pledges to slash immigration.
However, his party has fallen in opinion polls since it effectively pulled the plug on Rutte's 18-month-old administration in March by walking out of negotiations to craft an austerity package aimed at bringing the Dutch budget deficit back within EU limits.
Wilders campaigned this year on a fervently anti-EU platform, calling for the Netherlands to quit the 27-nation bloc and bring back the guilder to replace the ailing euro.
EMILE ROEMER, Socialist Party:
Roemer is an affable 50-year-old former junior school teacher who cites Martin Luther King Jr. as his hero.
He took over the Socialist Party leadership in 2010 and quickly transformed it from a fringe left-wing protest group to a left-wing alternative to Wilders' Freedom Party.
The Socialist Party, which grew out of a former communist grouping, first leapt to prominence with a strong campaign against the European Union constitution, which the Dutch voted down in a 2005 referendum.
Roemer does not advocate leaving the EU as his rival Wilders does, but has repeatedly said that the bloc's budget rules should be relaxed to stimulate growth in countries buckling under the twin weight of recession and austerity packages. He also advocated the European Central Bank buying up national bonds.
During campaigning he made waves by saying the Netherlands would pay fines for missing EU deficit targets "over my dead body" if he wins power.