18/05/2003 - D-7
Just a few days before the general election the government coalition has just experienced a political crisis that led to the resignation of two French speaking Ministers from the Ecolo party. The source of the crisis lies in an old polemic about night air traffic over Brussels. Transport Minister, Isabelle Durant, who had refused to go back on her decision to suspend an agreement that was concluded on the new itinerary of some night flights on 24th January between the federal government and the regional authorities of Brussels and Flanders, was relieved of her responsibilities for airspace by a ministerial council. The agreement aimed to relieve the population in the north of Brussels of sound pollution from planes by sending the night flights over certain other parts of the capital. Following her dismissal the ecologist minister decided to resign, that in turn led to the demise of the State Secretary for Energy, Olivier Deleuze, also an Ecolo party member.
The renewal of the present government coalition that has been planned if Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt wins (Flemish Liberals and Democrats) now seems to be compromised. "This affair puts the renewal of the coalition as its stands on hold," stresses Xavier Mabille, political analyst at the Centre for Research and Political Science Information (Crisp) in Brussels, he adds "the Ecolo Party that is losing ground in the opinion polls and that was obviously abandoned by its Flemish partner Agalev in the night flight affair is trying to make a come back in the polls." Guy Verhofstadt undertook a mini cabinet reshuffle : Isabelle Durant was replaced by Laurette Onkelinx, Deputy-Prime Minister and Minister for Employment; Yvan Ylieff (walloon Socialist Party) was appointed Deputy Minister for Scientific Research and Alain Zenner (walloon Reform Movement) is now Secretary of State for Energy and Sustainable Development.
The latest opinion polls show that 38% of Belgians are confident in the government coalition (there were 40% in 1999), versus 23% who are not confident in it and 39% who say they have no opinion. A survey undertaken by the Inra Institute in Belgium shows that although Guy Verhofstadt is still the best liked politician in Flanders he is ranked only sixth in Wallonia, behind the Foreign Minister Louis Michel and Finance Minister Didier Reynders. According to a poll undertaken by Dedicated Research that appeared in the daily paper "Le Soir" on 28th April, the major parties are running neck and neck with less than 2% separating the three main Flemish movements; the Flemish Liberals and Democrats (VLD), Guy Vershofstadt the Prime Minister's party, is due to win 22.1% of the vote in Flanders, the Flemish Christian Democrat Party (CD&V), an opposition movement is due to win 21.4% and the Socialist Party (SP.A), Spirit's ally in the electoral campaign and member of the present government coalition is due to win 20.5%. The head of the leading movement in Flanders, a region that covers 55% of the Belgian electorate is generally appointed as the country's Prime Minister. According also to this opinion poll published in "Le Soir", the Socialist Party (PS) and the Reform Movement (MR) in Wallonia would win 31.1% and 28.6% of the vote respectively with the opposition movement Humanist Democrat Centre (CDH) finding itself far behind with only 13.8% of the intention to vote. The ecologist party Ecolo is said to be lagging behind and would win just 14.3% of the vote. In the Brussels Capital region the Reform Movement is said to be well in the lead with 29.6% of the vote followed by the Socialist Party (20.2%) and Ecolo (17.9%).
The real worry lies in the result of the extreme rightwing movement Vlaams Blok in line to win 17.2% of the vote, i.e. two points more than during the last general elections on 13th June 1999 in the same region. The Vlaams Blok is also said to be the leading Flemish party in the Brussels Capital region. In Wallonia the National Front has 4.1% of the intention to vote i.e. 2.6 points more than in 1999. On 31st March, Daniel Féret, the National Front leader of the Front and the movement's only MP was condemned to an eight month suspended prison sentence and has been deprived for five years of both his civil and political rights for distributing racist leaflets.
With just a few days to go before the election nothing has yet been finalised as far as the coming Belgian general elections are concerned; this is bound to be an extremely close run affair and where the position of Flander's leading movement will be fought over in particular.