Belgium went to the polls on Sunday for local and provincial elections. I don’t have a vote in the provincial elections but I do for the local ones and, after the polls closed, spent far too much time watching the results come in on the VRT Website.
I was impressed when Herstappe declared a result after only an hour and a half of counting a paper ballot. Not so impressed when I realised that the community has only 88 residents and 7 council seats. The Belgians do like their devolution.
Being a bit of a political nerd, I find watching the results fascinating, but trying to get a sense of the province (I am looking, almost entirely at the Flemish news and have pretty much no idea what has happened in the Francophone part of the country) from this sort of piecemeal information can be both challenging and misleading. This is compounded by the fact that party lists headed by an incumbent mayor have tended to do well.
With that disclaimer in place, it looks to me that Flanders has seen something of a shift to the margins with the Greens and far-right Vlaams Belang doing well, mainly at the expense of the Flemish Nationalist N-VA. Locally (for me), the N-VA took a lot of votes — and almost all of their seats — from the Vlaams Belang and I had hoped that we could see the effective end of the far-right for good. Unfortunately, that has not been the case.
Among the more mainstream parties, the socialists have done badly and the Christian Democrats remain the biggest party overall. The Liberals seem to have improved their position where they were already doing well and struggled where they didn’t have much of a presence to begin with, although Fabian Lefevere points out that, had these been national elections, OpenVLD would have been left with the balance of power.
The big question now is whether the cordon sanitaire will hold. This was an agreement among the Flemish parties 2004 to have nothing to do with Vlaams Blok. That party became Vlaams Belang in 2006 and, although a new agreement was never signed, no party has entered a coalition with Vlaams Belang in the 12 years of it’s existence.
Hopefully this situation will continue but, with the Vlaams Belang within negotiating distance of a coalition in several communities (most notably Ninove, where they won 40% of the vote under the list name Forza Ninove), we will have to wait and see.