Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Background: the parliamentary elections of June the 13th

Parliamentary elections on the 13th of June caused a political earthquake in Belgium. In Flanders for the first time the Flemish nationalist – who before never were second or even third party – suddenly became the biggest party, far ahead of the other parties. In French-speaking Belgium voters rallied around their traditional stronghold, the Parti Socialiste.

Like always Flemish parties almost exclusively presented candidates in the Flemish districts and Brussels, whereas the French-speaking parties did the same in Wallony and Brussels. The political cleavages have become so strong that 12 parties are represented in the Lower House of the Parliament, of which eight have less than 15 of the 150 seats, but together hold more than 60 seats. The results are shown in this table and can be consulted in detail on the site of the Lower House.

Results for the Lower House of Belgium, in seats
(between brackets seats won or lost  compared to 2007)

NVA  (Flemish nationalists)      27 (+20)
PS (French socialists)               26 (+6)
MR (French liberals)                18 (-5)
CDV (Flemisch chr democrats)17 (-6)
VLD (Flemish liberals)             13 (-5)
SPA (Flemish socialists)           13 (-)
VB (Flemish extr right)             12 (-5)
CDH (French chr democrats)     9 (-1)
Ecolo (French greens)                8 (-)
Groen (Flemish greens)              5 (+1)
LDD (Flemish populists)            1 (-5)
PP (French populists)                1 (+1)

The victory of the Flemish nationalist of NVA was even stronger than the opinion polls had predicted. It never happened before since 1945 that one party won (the equivalent of) 20 seats in one Belgian election. The NVA now has four times as much seats as before the election. With 765.000 personal votes the NVA- leader, Bart De Wever, a 39-year old historian from the city of Antwerp, registered the third largest score since the introduction of regional districts in 1979.

The bill was footed by all the other parties, especially the Christian democrats, who were the biggest last time, the liberals (who seem to have been punished for causing the fall of the government) and the extreme right. The Greens and the social-democrats stagnated.

In French-speaking Belgium the liberals also lost heavily. The voters there brought the Parti Socialiste to more than 35 % of the votes, a score reminiscent of its high days of the nineteen eighties. At almost 59 its leader Elio di Rupo, a son of an Italian immigrant and the mayor of the city of Mons, was already before the elections the most likely candidate to become the next prime minister.

The paradox of this big shake-up was that the air looked more cleared than before the elections. Flanders had unequivocally made a choice for a rather right wing leader with a nationalist program, French-speaking Belgium had returned to its old left wing preference. The division of the country, fueled indeed for many decades by differing economic performances and electoral behavior, was never more obvious.

In a sense both parts of the country had chosen one uncontested leader to take up the difficult negotiations with the other community in the country. It was now up to De Wever and di Rupo to guide the country out of the mess it had fallen into.

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