Belgian voters decide fate of socialist-liberal coalition tomorrow

Saturday, June 9, 2007

The federal elections in Belgium tomorrow will decide the fate of the 8-year-long coalition of liberals and socialists, and will shake the cards for what politicians admit will be long and difficult negotiations.

Voting is mandatory in Belgium, and Belgians abroad have already voted, although their votes will only be counted tomorrow. A recent survey in the French-speaking part of Belgium shows that if voters could choose, 1 out 3 would stay at home.

The poll results

On the Flemish side, the final poll predicted a 29,9% victory for the Christian democratic party, which supports Flemish independence in a cartel with nationalist party N-VA. The far-right party Vlaams Belang was predicted to become the second largest political party with more than 20% of votes. The Flemish socialist and liberal parties would follow, the latter with the greatest setback of more than 8%.

The Flemish green party would get over 5% and get into parliament again, after their electoral loss 4 years ago, when the liberals and socialists decided to govern without them. The new right party of ex-judo wrestler, coach and politician Jean-Marie Dedecker would fail to do so, with only 3,8% of votes.

On the Walloon side of Belgium, no spectacular changes are expected. The socialist party of Elio Di Rupo might lose a few per cents, but with 33.1 per cent of votes would remain the largest political fraction in the south part of the country. The liberal party would become the second largest party, before the Christian democrats and the green party.

In the polls, some 20% of voters remain undecided.

Difficult coalition talks

Elio Di Rupo, leader of the Francophone Socialist Party.
Image: Luc van Braekel.
Yves Leterme, leader of the Flemish Christian Democrats.

The Christian democrats are on a shared election list with the nationalist party NV-A, and remains to be seen how much of their demands for Walloon concessions will uphold in the negotiations after Sunday's vote. Both Yves Leterme (Flemish Christian democrats) and Elio Di Rupo (Walloon socialists), the expected winners of the elections, are seen across the language borders as great threats to the other part of the country, Leterme because he strongly supports more Flemish autonomy, and Di Rupo because he symbolises the need to negotiate toward that goal. Leterme partially owes this perception to an interview in which he questioned the intellectual capacity of his French-speaking compatriots to learn Dutch.

The Flemish politicians who support more independence for Flanders have argued during the campaign that voters could trust them to break the force of the Walloon socialist party. While socialists and Christian democrats in Wallonia seem to be heading for a coalition, the leader of the Flemish socialists made it clear that he would not let his bigger sister party dictate their course, not excluding the possibility of an asymmetrical coalition in the two regions.

Topics during the elections

Following closely after the French presidential elections, the campaign focused more on the leaders than on the content, and gave the impression at times that these elections were about who would succeed Guy Verhofstadt (Flemish liberals) to become Prime Minister of Belgium.

Also, for the first time in 20 years, the elections have not centered around the far-right party Vlaams Belang, although topics of immigration and integration played an important role in the campaigns.

The importance of the federal relations to the elections was highlighted early on, when a spoof emission on the Francophone TV station RTBF in December last year reported that Flanders had separated itself from the federal Belgian state.

The relations between the French- and Dutch-speaking parts of the country, and related constitutional reformations, were an important topic during the campaign. Most Flemish parties support the idea that some responsibilities should be transferred from the federal level to the regions, but the opinions differ on the exact extent. The Flemish parties also want the electoral district around Brussels to be split.

The opposition parties during the campaign fiercely criticised the way the Ministry of Justice was handled during the past 8 years, and have blamed the liberals and socialists for the crowded situations in and escapes from the prisons.

The environment has also been an important element in the debates leading to the elections. All agree that there is a need to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The left parties want to close the nuclear power plants to be sure that solar panels and windmills are fully developed, whereas the others disagree with this strategy and think nuclear power plants will be needed to ensure power supply.

In the ethical discussions, an interesting question was if the euthanasia laws, which make the act legal in Belgium, should be extended to include elderly patients who suffer from dementia, and to minors.

Other traditional elements such as taxes, employment, and social security also were present in the electoral campaigns of most parties.

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This article features first-hand journalism by Wikinews members. See the collaboration page for more details.
This article features first-hand journalism by Wikinews members. See the collaboration page for more details.