THE HAGUE, March 15 (Xinhua) -- Elections for 12 provincial legislatures began Wednesday in the Netherlands as voters cast their ballots that will indirectly elect the country's national senate.
The vote came amid widespread discontent with the government and fury among farmers at plans to curb nitrate pollution.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has committed to halving nitrogen emissions in the country by 2030. Levels of nitrogen oxides in the country's air and water are currently higher than what the European Union regulations allow.
The government's plans to reduce the number of livestock across the country and close some farms have caused the new political force Farmer-Citizen Movement -- known by its Dutch acronym BBB -- to soar in popularity, especially in rural areas. In the north and east of the country, polls indicated it could even become the largest political party.
Farmers say that the new regulations to cut nitrogen emissions have been exaggerated and current proposals to solve the problem are unfair and ineffective.
The party, which is led by lawmaker Caroline van der Plas, is likely to win big in the elections as it taps into dissatisfaction in rural communities.
Rutte and other political leaders were briefly unable to leave the venue of the final election debate Tuesday night because of farmers and others protesting outside.
"It wasn't a problem," The Associated Press quoted Rutte as saying. "We were in good hands. I had a nice cup of coffee."
In addition to the nitrogen crisis, the current government is also under pressure from issues including climate change, migration, housing shortages and energy prices.
Dozens of small and local parties participate in the provincial elections in the northwestern European country of nearly 18 million.
Voters will also elect members of the country's 21 local water authorities and key institutions.