THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The Dutch went to the polls Wednesday to elect 12 provincial councils, in a vote that could have profound consequences for the ruling coalition of Prime Minister Mark Rutte.
The 570 provincial representatives elected in Wednesday's vote will, in turn, choose a new Senate on May 26.
Rutte's two-party coalition already lacks a majority in the Senate and relies on three opposition parties to help pass new laws.
Polls suggest that the results expected late Wednesday could leave even Rutte's ad-hoc five-party senate grouping without a majority, putting in question the government's ability to push legislation through both houses of parliament.
Facing possible paralysis in the senate, Rutte has campaigned hard ahead of the vote, telling voters that after years of tough austerity measures he introduced to get the Dutch economy back on track, recovery is now forging ahead.
Rutte also shifted further to the right on security and immigration issues, saying that it is better if Dutch citizens who travel to Syria to fight with the Islamic State group die there rather than returning home.
That tough statement appeared to be an attempt to stake a claim to electoral ground usually held by anti-Islam lawmaker Geert Wilders' Freedom Party, which is also forecast to slightly increase its share of the vote.
Polls show Rutte's Liberal Party likely to lose seats, but remain the largest party, while junior coalition partner Labor could lose up to half its seats because traditional supporters are unhappy at the party's support for Rutte's austerity drive of recent years.
Elections for the lower house of parliament are not due until May 2017.