Belgian voters have cast their ballots to pick candidates for provincial, district and municipal offices. Radio Sputnik discussed the vote with Lode Vanoost, political analyst and former deputy speaker of the Belgian parliament.
Sputnik: The election in Belgium has not received major media coverage. But was there anything to watch out for in the vote?
Lode Vanoost: The Belgian political context is complex as with its three language communities and all the structure that it has on the state, regional and the municipal levels. So, foreign audiences will stick to the general impressions that [they have] gathered. On the Flemish side, the Dutch-speaking part of the country, everything you could say is that on the ideological level it’s more or less a bit of steady growth because the extreme right parties, the National Flemish Alliance and the Flemish Bloc, did have some spectacular losses and some spectacular gains. Overall, when you combine the votes, the extreme right wing has slightly gone up. The biggest loser on the Flemish side of the country is the traditional Social Democratic Party which is now really fighting for its survival. It’s no longer one of the leading traditional parties in the country. The thing is that in Brussels, the capital, and in the
French-speaking part of the country, Wallonia, the situation is quite different – the Social Democrats there, although they had some big losses, are still the biggest party there. The one thing that is also striking is that the extreme left Workers’ Party has made some significant gains in the French-speaking part and less so in the Flemish part of the country. We should bear in mind that these are local elections; although the two extreme right-wing parties in the Flemish part did push a very nationalist campaign focusing on the immigration issue and the refugee crisis, what we see is that, and it’s quite logical for any voter, voters vote on the basis of local issues and on the basis of local people that they know. What we see is that the mayors that did quite well for the past six years, regardless of what party they were from, did quite well this time; again the elections have seen some exceptions. In that common data analysis in the mainstream media that would like to see and analyze trends for the upcoming federal elections next year, I think that it’s quite difficult to see anything, as these are local elections. You also shouldn’t forget that the themes that were quite prevalent on the federal and national level – austerity issues like the pension reform plan and other things – haven’t played a role in these elections. What’s at stake next year is really hard to tell. One can’t deduce anything significant from these elections.
Sputnik: Many European countries are actually seeing an increase in right-wing sentiments, and actually right-wing extreme sentiments. We’re seeing a decrease in centrist parties. Would you say that’s the case in Belgium as well?
Lode Vanoost: Yes, that’s taking apart the local issues and the local vote. On the whole, in Belgium the traditional parties are losing their grip; the centrist parties of traditional power that ruled the country for more than 100 years now represent less than one third of all the votes. And also the extreme right vote is still quite significant – it’s 30 to 35 per cent with the two parties combined. But it hasn’t grown substantially during these local elections; it was more of a steady growth of votes, which is still problematic. But to say that in the last three or four years there has been a rise of the extreme right wing in Belgium is simply not true.
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