Monday, 3 September 2007

Background: the elections of June the 10th

Parliamentary elections were held in Belgium on June the 10th after the coalition of (Flemish and Walloon) liberal and socialists parties under prime minister Guy Verhofstadt (Flemish Liberal, or Open VLD) almost finished its term of four years.

To understand the elections you have to know that Flemish parties almost exclusively present candidates in the Flemish districts and Brussels, and the Walloon parties in Wallony and Brussels. So when it is said that e.g. the cartel of CD&V and N-VA gained 3,8 % of the votes in the election, this is in fact 3,8 % of the Flemish votes. On a national scale – but that is paradoxically a statistic that almost nobody uses in Belgium during national elections – the 3,8 % are only 2,2 %. To see the real national results of the parties, see the website of the Lower House.

The big winner on June the 10th was the cartel of the Flemish christian democrats (CD&V) and the Flemish nationalists (N-VA). They gained 8 seats in the Lower House to become the largest fraction. The other winner on the Flemish side was the Lijst Dedecker, an new list that obtained 5 seats and 6,5 % of the votes in Flanders. Jean-Marie Dedecker is the former coach of the very succesful Belgian judo team, and almost became a president of the liberal VLD in 2004 before he was thrown out of the party for being too rightist two years later. Both the extreme-right Vlaams Belang and the Greens won slightly in votes, although the former lost one seat. The losers of the elections were the government parties: the liberal Open VLD (renaimed so after the defenestration of Dedecker) of the prime minister lost 7 seats, the cartel of socialists and left-wing nationalists (SP.A-spirit) under Johan Vande Lanotte 9. Especially the last disastrous result was not foreseen by the polls.

In the French-speaking part of Belgium (Wallony and 88 % of the Brussels electorate) the liberal MR won 2,7 % but lost a seat due to the electoral system. Psychologically far more important was the fact that for the first time since the introduction of universal suffrage in 1893 the socialists (led by the chief minister of Wallony Elio di Rupo) were no longer the biggest party of Wallony. They lost 6,9 % of the votes and 8 seats. The biggest winner in fact where the greens of Ecolo, who won 5.4 % and 4 seats. The christian democrats of CDH (+ 0,5 %) progressed slightly, whereas the extreme-right FN stagnated on a level of 5,6 % of the votes.

Perception is of course as important as the real results on election day. And so the succes of the main christian democratic candidate, the chief-minister of Flanders Yves Leterme, was seen as the fruit of his alliance with the nationalist, who used to be bitter rivals of the CD&V in the past. On the Walloon side the relative succes of the MR was the more remarkable as its main candidate Didier Reynders had broken with a tradition among Walloon parties not to criticize to harshly the socialists during campaigning, as they would inevitably be the power-brokers after the election. But the socialist fell through the ice, both in Wallony and Flanders, a fact that brought to an end all speculations about a coalition of christian democrats and socialist, that had been expected on the basis of the opinion polls.

The only possible coalition with two political ‘families’ (a political ‘family’ means: the two political parties of the same ideological tendency on both sides of the language border) on June the 11th seemed to be one of the christian democrats and the liberals (having 81 of the 150 seats of the Lower House). And it was generally expected that Yves Leterme, who received 800.000 votes, the second largest score ever, on the Senate List covering the whole of Flanders, was to become the new prime minister.

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