10/06/2007 - Analysis
On 19th January last Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt (Flemish Liberals and Democrats, VLD) announced that Parliamentary elections would take place on 10th June next. 7, 721, 322 Belgians i.e. 160,000 more than four years ago will renew both Houses of Parliament i.e. 71 members of the Senate and the 150 in the Chamber of Representatives.
Aurian Bourguignon, chairman of the Federation of French speaking Students (FEF), deplored the fact that the election was being organised during the university exam period explaining that it was difficult for a student to stand as a candidate if during the general elections he also had to attend an exam.
Parliament was dissolved by royal decree on 2nd May. Candidates had to register if they wanted to stand before 13th May.
The Belgian Political System
It is based on a pillar system: political parties emerged as a result of internal divisions within society, religious divisions (Church/State) primarily and then regional divisions (Walloons/Flemish) and finally social divisions (work/capital, workers/management). The political parties born of these divisions comprise true entities within the kingdom each managing a multitude of organisations (schools, insurance companies etc ...) which take responsibility for the members of the party and their families almost from birth to death. In exchange for their political loyalty the members of these various organisations find work, housing and other various social advantages. For their part the leaders of the different political movements share out fairly the positions available in the civil services. "Whereas in France the dividing line comes between two socio-economic trends in Belgium we are faced with an interlacing of several lines of division," says Pascal Delwit, political analyst at the Free University in Brussels.
This system worked perfectly for decades before collapsing in the 1970's. In the 80's two new political movements emerged: the ecologists (Ecolo and Agalev) and the far right nationalists (Volksunie, Vlaams Blok which became Vlaams Belang, Democratic Front of French speaking inhabitants of Brussels, Walloon Assembly and National Front). These new parties enjoy increasing popularity. The Socialist and Christian Democrat Parties which rallied the majority of the electorate for many years now only win votes from a third of the Belgians.
The kingdom of Belgium was founded in 1830 after a merger between the former Austrian Netherlands and the principality of Liège. At that time although a majority of the population spoke Dutch the nobility and the bourgeoisie spoke French. The Dutch speakers are mostly Protestant (Calvinist) and the French speakers, Catholics. The domination by the French speakers lasted over a century before Wallonia began to decline and Flanders started to emerge in the 1960's. Tension between the communities led to several constitutional reforms (1970, 1980, 1988-1989, 1993 and 2001) which over the years have transformed Belgium into a complex federal State. Indeed the country has three regions (Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels-Capital) and three linguistic communities (French, Dutch and German speaking) which cannot overlap. Hence the Flemish community brings together the Dutch speakers of Flanders and Brussels, the Walloon community rallies the French speakers of Wallonia and Brussels and the German speaking community comprises the German speakers living on the German border, i.e. around 70,000 people.
At the end of the 1960's the State established administrative structures that were responsible for education and culture. The competences of the communities were extended: apart from education and culture, the regions manage social policy, housing, environment, urban development and with a few exceptions, employment and the economy. In 1933 the first Article of the Fundamental Law stipulated that Belgium had ceased to be a single unit State. New federal competences were transferred over to the regions (external trade, agriculture) and the Regional Parliaments became institutions that were elected by direct universal suffrage. Finally the reform in 2001 provided the regions with fiscal autonomy.
As a result of these developments Belgium no longer has any national political parties. The political arena comprises French speakers in Wallonia, Dutch speakers in Flanders; the French and Dutch speakers now only mix in the region of Brussels-Capital. In Belgium therefore the electoral results are never calculated nationally but always regionally. The German speaking community has asked for the creation of a new region on the model of Brussels-Capital arguing that it is the only community in Belgium that does not have any constitutive autonomy thereby claiming a guarantee of representation of at least two MPs in the Federal Parliament.
Parliament is bicameral. The Chamber of Representatives comprises 150 MPs; the Senate comprises 71 members 40 of whom are elected by direct universal suffrage within three constituencies: Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels-Hal-Vilvorde (25 by the Dutch speaking college and 15 by the French speaking college), 21 are elected by the Parliaments of the Communities (Flemish Council and the Council of the French Community) and 10 are appointed by co-optation. The Senate also comprises ex officio senators: children of the King aged 18 and over and who have been sworn in as Senators. The dissolution of the Chamber of Representatives automatically leads to the dissolution of the Senate, therefore the Belgians will be voting on 10th June to renew both Chambers of Parliament.
The general elections take place every four years according to a system of integral proportional representation corresponding to the highest average (the Hondt system) within 11 electoral districts. The electorate can vote for all the members on a list, for one or several candidates on a list, for one or several replacement candidates on a list and even for candidates and replacement candidates.
In order to stand for election all political parties have to gather 500 signatures per district for the Chamber of Representatives and 5,000 for the Senate whilst the signature of two MPs suffices for the 'major' parties.
Each political party has to win a minimum of 5% of the vote in an electoral district to win a seat in Parliament. Since 2002 each party has to present lists comprising, to the nearest candidate, as many women as men. In addition to this the two leading candidates on each list cannot be of the same sex. For the past year it has been forbidden to stand both for the Chamber of Representatives and for the Senate. The treatment of the small parties by the media is also a subject of dispute within the kingdom since appearances on TV channels are proportional to the results achieved by the parties in the last elections. "If we were given more air time alternative votes would not only be votes for the National Front. But in the end the National Front vote is quite useful to the Socialist Party. With the evidently reprehensible National Front in Parliament there cannot be a majority without the Socialists. Therefore we cannot have political alternation in Wallonia," maintains Paul-Henry Gendebien, Chairman of the Wallonia-France Assembly (RWF) which promotes Wallonia's rapprochement with France.
It is obligatory to vote in Belgium and abstainers risk a warning (if they abstain for the first time) or a fine of 27.50 to 55 euro set by the police judge. This sum may rise to 137.50 euro if the offence is repeated.
10 political parties are represented in the Chamber of Representatives:
- the Liberals and Flemish Democrats (VLD), which recently became Open VLD, a party led by Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, has 25 seats;
- the Reform Movement (MR), founded in 2002 after a merger between the Liberal Reform Party (PRL) with the Citizens Movement for Change and the Liberal German Speaking Party. Led by Didier Reynders, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister; it has 25 MPs;
- the Socialist Party (PS), a Walloon social democrat party led by the Minister President of Wallonia, Elio di Rupo, with 25 seats;
- the Socialist-Spirit Party (SP.A-Spirit), a Flemish social democrat party allied to Spirit, a moderate regionalist party led by Geert Lambert which emerged after the dissolution of Volksunie, a Flemish regionalist party on 19th September 2001. Led by the Minister for the Budget, Community Development and the North Sea, Johan Vande Lanotte, it has 23 seats;
- the Flemish Christian Democrat Party (CD&V), former Popular Christian Party (CVP), created in 1945; it lies to the centre of the political scale. It is led by Minister President of Flanders, Yves Leterme and has 21 MPs;
- the Vlaams Belang (VB), formerly the Vlaams Blok, a Flemish far right organisation created in 1978 by Karel Dillen after the merger between the Flemish Popular Party (VVP) led by Lode Claes and the National Flemish Party (VNP) led by Karel Dillen; presently it is chaired by Frank Vanhecke; it has 18 MPs;
- the Humanist Democrat Centre (CDH), former Social Christian Party (PSC) led by Joëlle Milquet, has 7 MPs;
- Ecolo, a Walloon ecologist movement created in 1980, has 4 seats;
- the French National Front (FN), a Walloon far right movement created in 1985 by Daniel Féret has 1 seat;
- the New Flemish Alliance (N-VA), a nationalist party which emerged after the dissolution of Volksunie, a Flemish regional party on 19th September 2001; it has one seat.
The Issues at Stake
Institutional issues which have prevailed over the political arena for months are at the heart of the electoral debate. On 13th December last the broadcast of a fake TV news programme on RTBF of a documentary-fiction produced by journalist Philippe Dutilleul which announced the division of Belgium and the separation of Flanders was the source of great emotion on the party of the population. "In Flanders there is an elite oriented towards independency, that we cannot deny. But the public cares nothing for this. Even amongst those who vote for Vlaams Belang are only marginally in favour of being separate; the far right owes its success mainly to its position with regard to security. The polls undertaken on either side of the linguistic divide show that most Flemish and Walloons prefer to continue living under the same roof," declared Marc Swyngedouw, professor of political science at the University of Louvain.
"Neither separatism nor inertia," said Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt who believes that another reform of the State is now both "desirable and vital". In an interview in January in the daily Le Soir the Prime Minister declared that it was not just about granting greater autonomy to the regions and communities but that it was necessary to "strengthen co-operation between the two entities (...) We must not be satisfied with pinpointing the things which feed division. We must also discuss matters that will probably strengthen the Federation." Guy Verhofstadt says that he favours the creation of an egalitarian Senate representing the regions and the communities, the election of a party of MPs on the basis of a national constituency and an honourable compromise for Brussels-Hal-Vilvorde guaranteeing the rights of both the French and Dutch speaking population.
The issue of the bilingual electoral district of Brussels-Val-Vilvorde that comprises 19 communities in the region of Brussels as well the Flemish communities where French speakers live has been at the heart of political debate for the last two years. The Dutch speaking parties are requesting the separation of the district into two entities (Brussels and Hal-Vilvorde), an option which has been rejected by the French speakers who are threatening to request the annexation of Rhode-Saint-Genèse to the region of Brussels-Capital. The linguistic divide established in the 1960's between Dutch speaking Flanders and French speaking Wallonia turned Brussels into an entity that is principally French speaking within Flemish territory.
Although the Liberals and Democrats stress socio-economic issues, the Flemish Christian Democrat Party focuses on the reform of the State. It is requesting a new division of power and demanding the regionalisation of new competences: healthcare, family, employment, taxation (both for private parties and companies), justice and security. The party's leader, Yves Leterme, who is extremely critical of federal power, insists above all on economic aspects. He is demanding the revision of the Constitution to transform Belgium into a confederate State that would be run according to two points of focus: Flanders and Wallonia – and in which the German speaking would be provided with specific status. As for the Dutch speaking parties the Socialist Party is in favour of the regionalisation of the employment policy.
At first the French speaking parties tried to come together to fight against the autonomist claims put forward by the Dutch speakers but the Humanist Democrat Centre put an end to this attempt by standing against any institutional reform and any modification of the Constitution. "What do we need a new reform of the State for? Why not leave Belgium alone?" asked the party's president Joëlle Milquet, who refused to provide support to the appointment of a French speaking Prime Minister. Socialist Party leader, Elio di Rupo stands as the defender of the French speakers and as the guarantor of the country's stability.
Finally the Dutch speakers are questioning certain powers exercised by the King whereas the French speakers see the monarchy as a factor of national unity that must be protected. In Belgium the King is the Head of State but he cannot act alone. Anything he does must be approved by the signature of a minister, since article 101 in the Constitution stipulates that ministers are responsible for their acts and those of the King. Therefore the latter's function is mainly of a symbolic nature. Recently the King found himself in an uncomfortable position when on 9th January Prince Laurent, King Albert II's youngest son appeared in court in Hasselt; this was a first in the kingdom's history. Called as a witness the Prince has been accused of having knowingly received a share of a 2.2 million euro sum from the public funds of the Marine forces in which he undertook his military service; the sum was embezzled at the end of the 1990's by military personnel and entrepreneurs. During the trial, the issue of the financial means granted by the State to the royal household (12.5 million euro per year) along with that of the reduction of the King's powers, were at the heart of political debate. A survey undertaken in 2003 revealed that 45.3% of the Dutch speakers believe that the monarchy is necessary. 62% shared this opinion in 1990.
There is more evidence of the crisis that Belgium is undergoing: in March 2006 the King declared during a speech that "the solution is not to be found either in regional introspection or in the development of mini nationalist trends nor in explicit or disguised separatism"; this political stance was unusual on the part of the King. "It is not the first time that a king has taken a stance. In 1961 Baudoin delivered a speech in which he criticised relativism quite severely and repeated references to Christian values. But this type of intervention remains exceptional," stresses political analyst Xavier Mabille.
A Review of the Various Political Parties as the Election approaches
LIBERAL AND DEMOCRATS (OPEN VLD)
In power since 1999 Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt is running for his third term in office. Since the general elections on 18th May 2003 his party has suffered three major electoral setbacks. Firstly during the regional elections on 13th June 2004 when they lost nearly four points in comparison with the previous election in 1999 and nearly six points in comparison with the general election in 2003; then came the European elections which took place on the same day when with 13.56% of the vote the party only came third amongst the Dutch speaking college. Finally on 8th October 2006 during the local elections the party lost ground winning only 19% of the vote beaten by the Flemish Christian Democrat Party that won 31% of the vote.
In 2004, Guy Verhofstadt dreamt of presiding over the European Commission. He did not hesitate in putting forward the name of his successor as Head of Government: Patrick Dewael, Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister. This rather clumsy gesture was rejected by his partners in the government coalition who did not really like the VLD taking the position of Prime Minister. The problem was solved when the European Union opted for José Manuel Barroso instead of Guy Verhofstadt. The party's image had already declined at the start of 2004 when the movement's chairman Karel de Gucht resigned after a dispute between himself and the Prime Minister over a proposal to grant voting rights to foreigners in local elections.
The Prime Minister who turned his party into Open VLD is in a position however to put forward quite a satisfactory set of socio-economic results. In 2006, the country achieved a growth rate of 2.7% higher than the average recorded in the EU. Belgium finds itself in budgetary excess (+ 0.3% of the GDP) and the unemployment rate is dropping even though it is still quite high in Wallonia (11.3% of the working population according to the figures released by the International Employment Bureau). Over the years a rift has developed between Guy Verhofstadt, the Liberal and Flanders a more conservative region with regard to issues affecting society. Hence the reforms he has introduced on subjects such as abortion, euthanasia, homosexual marriage and the adoption of children by homosexual couples, divorce and voting rights for foreigners in local elections have sometimes been misunderstood by some inhabitants.
Guy Verhofstadt is leading the Open VLD list for the Senate. Several Ministers have been appointed as leading candidates in the general elections: Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister, Patrick Dewael in Limbourg, Foreign Minister Karel de Gucht in Eastern Flanders and the Secretary of State for Administrative Simplification, Vincent Quickenborne in Western Flanders.
By calling on the party for a wide government coalition rallying his party, the Socialists and the Christian Democrats, the Prime Minister is attempting to ensure the survival of the Flemish Liberal Democrats in the next government. The party's programme focuses on the creation of 200,000 new jobs, a continued reduction in taxes and the election of the Prime Minister by the population.
SOCIALIST PARTY-SPIRIT (SP. A)
The Dutch speaking Socialist Party-Spirit are standing together in the elections on 10th June. Several ministers feature as leading candidates. The list for the senatorial election will be led by Johan Vande Lanotte (SP.A) who is also standing for Prime Minister.
Both parties presented their electoral programme on 5th May and their campaign motto is "Yes". They are emphasising six main themes qualified by six statements: "less arms and more development co-operation"; "all children are beautiful" (integration of asylum seekers' children, Spirit is also in favour of a regularisation of illegal immigrants whilst the Socialist Party takes a firmer stance on this issue); "everything works better if everyone is at work" (the parties are requesting flexsecurity but also higher unemployment benefits for those who remain excluded from the world of work); "the next stage in terms of nuclear energy is to get out of it"; "diversity" and finally "the fight against poverty".
THE CHRISTIAN DEMOCRAT PARTY-NEW FLEMISH ALLIANCE (CDV-NVA)
Yves Leterme the party's president declared on 6th May that he would lead the Christian Democrat Party list in the senatorial elections. He did announce however when he was Minister President of Flanders in 2004 that he would only stay in power for five years. "The electorate will decide whether it is repudiation. The electorate will judge what we have achieved in the Flemish government. If they give me the go ahead to have major influence in negotiations I shall assume my responsibilities," he declared in an interview with the Nieuwsblad op Zondag. The Minister President therefore cleared the uncertainty hanging over his candidature just a month before the elections. He even said that he was not interested in becoming Prime Minister but no one believes this. If the latter wants to take residence in 16 rue de la Loi (the Prime Minister's residence) the task will probably be difficult since he will have to join forces with the French speaking parties who are decidedly against him. To do this Yves Leterme has little room to manoeuvre since he is restricted by his party's alliance with the extremely nationalist New Flemish Alliance.
He is quick to point to the problems in Wallonia. "Did you know that Mons is the capital of Belgian unemployment with 26%?" he asked on 21st March in an interview with the daily La Libre Belgique "The Walloon economy is not going well, that is a reality. And I want to help it emerge from that situation," he says whilst maintaining for example that "the French speakers are not intellectually able to learn Dutch." Whilst presenting his party's programme he indicated: "We want more security instead of poverty, we are for harmony between work and the family. We want more judicial security, greater security on the roads, more justice and a determined fight against fiscal fraud. With regard to all aspects of this programme Flanders has to acquire more competences."
THE SOCIALIST PARTY (PS)
The Socialist Party is the leading movement in Wallonia. It easily pulled ahead in the regional elections on 13th June 2004 (36.91% of the vote, i.e. 7.4 points more than in the previous election in 1999). In the local elections on 8th October 2006 it won the towns of Namur, Mons and Charleroi (where it won 40% of the vote) and also improved its score in Brussels. Its leader Elio Di Rupo worked hard to improve the management ethics of a party that was disrupted by the assassination on 18th July 1991, in circumstances which remain suspicious, of one of its former presidents André Cools, the burgermeister of Flémalle and Walloon Minister of Local Authorities and Subsidised Works; a number of the parties leaders have been also condemned for fraudulent practices in several major towns (Charleroi, Namur, Fontaine l'Evêque etc ...).
Elio Di Rupo, who is running for Prime Minister (he would be the first French speaking Head of Government in 35 years), will be the leading candidate in the elections in the Hainaut. Laurette Onkelinx, Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Minister will head the list in the district of Brussels-Hal-Vilvorde. Anne-Marie Lizin will lead the list for the Senate. Philippe Moureaux, burgermeister of Molenbeek who had declared that he was withdrawing from national politics was however persuaded to enlist again for this new battle. This skilled negotiator and debater will be n°2 on the list headed by Anne-Marie Lizin. The latter declared on May 1st that the issue at stake for the Socialists in these parliamentary elections was to enable the socialists to enter the federal government: "This time I feel that we can achieve our objective which has not occurred since Edmond Leburton (1973-1974): we want a Walloon Socialist Prime Minister." The Socialist Party has received several personalities from civil society on its lists, notably François Martou, chairman of the Christian workers' movement for the last twenty years, Henri Simons, former member of Ecolo and José Damilot former leader of the train drivers section of the General Labour Federation of Belgium.
The party presented its electoral programme on 21st April last. It included several social measures such as a 12% increase in all pensions, the abolition of the solidarity tax, an increase in the minimum pension to 1000 euro for single people and 1200 euro for households, the regulation of excessive rents and a progressive re-appraisal of family allowance. In addition to this the Socialist Party is fighting for improved, individual aid for young people seeking employment and plans for a reduction in social charges over two years for employers taking on a young unemployed person. Elio Di Rupo would like to establish social ecology. "Social ecology is an ecology that reduces inequalities more than it creates," he indicated. "If we tax according to the production of CO2 someone with modest income, living in an old house which is poorly insulated will pay much more than someone with higher income living in a villa. This also applies to cars. The older models, those owned by the poor are the ones which pollute the most," he said. With regard to the institutions he would like to see the Senate transformed into an egalitarian assembly of representatives of federate entities.
Yves Leterme, Minister-President of Flanders and Elio Di Rupo, Minister President of Wallonia met in the TV studios of RTL-TVi and VTM on 25th April last for a debate. Although there is a world separating the two men who are as popular in their own region and deemed as dangerous in the other, they did however admit at the end of the debate that exchange was possible between them. "We do have many things in common," declared Yves Leterme.
THE HUMANIST DEMOCRAT CENTRE (CDH)
The Humanist Democrat Centre has also called on civil society. The party has included Anne Delvaux, a TV news presenter on RTBF, on their list. The extremely popular journalist says that she has "finally made a real choice after thirteen years. It was choice I made carefully. The Senate has always interested me for the high level of thinking that goes on there. The ideas of the Humanist Democrat Centre are the ones I feel closest to. This party puts the human being at the centre of matters which suits me perfectly." Anne Delvaux will be second on the list running for the Senate behind the professor of constitutional law at the Catholic University of Louvain, Francis Delpérée who has said he will fight for "a federal Belgium within a federal Europe." "The recruitment of TV journalists by the political parties can help to build up credibility of a political party's list at a given moment, singularly during an election: if you succeed in attracting someone who is well known in the audiovisual arena this is positive. It is also an admission of weakness on the part of the political parties: it shows their inability to present an electoral list put together with people from the party itself," says Pascal Delwit, a political analyst from the Free University in Brussels.
The Humanist Democrat Centre which hopes to "speak of Belgians and not about the shape of their State, to federate and not simply divide" has established three objectives: speak differently, be different, and act differently. Its programme includes education, training and employment, respect, the family, environment, public governance. Its chairman, Joëlle Milquet, leads the list for the Chamber of Representatives in the district of Brussels-Val-Vilvorde. The party chose "It is time" as their campaign motto.
THE REFORM MOVEMENT (MR)
"Together, the future is better," will be the Reform Movement's motto during the elections on 10th June. The party's chairman Didier Reynders will lead the list for the Chamber of Representatives in the district of Liège and has clearly defined his party's objective: "Shift the centre of political gravity in Wallonia and in Brussels," this means "beat the Socialist Party". "Voting on 10th June will be a vote of sanction in reaction to what has happened in Wallonia. The Socialist Party has repeated constantly that it will undergo reform but it has been saying this for the last fifteen years," he maintained.
The Reform Movement List for the Chamber of Representatives will be led by Co-operation Development Minister and former President of the Senate, Armand De Decker. "I say that the worst favour we could do to Belgium would be to have Elio Di Rupo as Prime Minister. The Socialists have to be beaten" he said in an interview in the daily, Le Soir on 5th May. When interviewed on May 1st about Elio Di Rupo's accession to the position of Head of Federal Government, Charles Michel, the Reform Movement's spokesperson and head of the list in the general elections in the district of Walloon Brabant maintained, "For us this is out of the question" as he addressed the members of the Flemish Liberals and Democrats.
The Minister for the Middle Classes, Sabine Laruelle, will head the list in the district of Namur. Louis Michel will head the list for the Senate. The former Foreign Affairs Minister and Deputy Prime Minister (1999-2004) asked the European Commission for a month's holiday as from 12th May for the Belgian elections, a request which was appreciated in different ways in Brussels. Louis Michel said that he wanted "to show clearly that by becoming a commissioner one could maintain freedom of political opinion," and that "the European Commission is not an administrative secretariat comprising politically asexual beings." In 2004, Romano Prodi, the then President of the European Commission took leave for the European Elections which took place on 13th June in his country.
Like the Humanist Democrat Centre the Reform Movement has a candidate from the media amongst its ranks: Florence Reuter, a TV news presenter on RTL-TVi, lies fourth on the list for the Chamber of Representatives in the district of Brussels-Hal-Vilvorde. The French journalist, who was born in Belgium and married to a Belgian, has just acquired Belgian nationality, however she will not be allowed to vote in these elections, since she registered with the authorities in Waterloo too late and where the electoral roll closed on 5th April. The Reform Movement is also trying to draw closer to Ecolo with whom it might form a rainbow coalition. "With Ecolo everything is possible," said Didier Reynders, "I only hope to be the centre of gravity." "I regret sometimes that I was a blind opponent of Ecolo. I thought that we were different culturally. But Liberals and Ecologists can come to agreement," maintained the European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, Louis Michel.
The outgoing federal secretary and Senator Isabelle Durant will head the French speaking ecologist list in the Senate. Five of the seven lists put forward by Ecolo will be headed by women including Zoé Genot who will be the primary candidate on the green list in the Chamber of Representatives in the district of Brussels-Hal-Vilvorde, Cécile Thibaut in Luxembourg and Thérèse Snoy in Walloon Brabant. The party is aiming to rise above the 10% voting mark. The ecologist programme entitled, "A greener earth for a fairer world," puts forward 500 proposals focussed on 10 priorities the three main ones being the environment, the economy and solidarity/governance.
Groen (Green), formerly "Agalev" and which was renamed after the party's failure in the last general elections on 18th May 2003 (Agalev won 2.5% of the vote), will also be present in these elections. Its chairman, Vera Dua will head her party's list for the Senate which includes Tom Kestens, a singer from the group Lalavoer. The party hopes to reduce CO2 emissions by 80% by 2050 and is putting forward a national pact for the climate and a "climate law". It hopes to step up the fight against poverty, establish a new asylum policy and develop a more ecological economy. It hopes to return to the Chamber of Representatives by winning 6 seats and winning 2 senator's seats.
THE VLAAMS BELANG (VB)
The chairman of the Vlaams Belang, Franck Vanhecke will head the list for the Senate. The far right party is undergoing a certain amount of strain and some of its members are criticising the strategy launched by Filip Dewinter. The latter is being questioned because of the poor results achieved by the Vlaams Blok in the last local elections on 8th October last year. With 15.3% of the vote (+ 4,7 points in comparison with the most recent local elections) the party had indeed strengthened its hold in Flanders but without recording a new breakthrough, a first in over 25 years. In Anvers, the Vlaams Blok won 33.51% of the vote and was beaten by the Flemish Socialist Party led by outgoing mayor Patrick Janssens who achieved his best score ever: 35.2% (+ 16.2 points in comparison with the local elections in October 2000). In addition to this Patrick Janssens won 72,000 votes on his name versus, 62,000 for Filip Dewinter. Some of the party members like Marie-Rose Morel, originally from the New Flemish Alliance and regional MP Jürgen Verstrepen, are in favour of opening up to other political movements. On 18th January Jürgen Verstrepen said that he wanted the Vlaams Blok to come together with the Flemish right amongst whom he includes the New Flemish Alliance and the Christian Democrat Party.
The most recent poll published by the daily Le Soir on 30th April revealed that the Christian Democrat Party is ahead amongst the Dutch speaking population with 29.6% of voting intentions, easily ahead of the Vlaams Belang (21.9%), the Socialist Party-Spirit (20.3%) and Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt's party Open VLD, (16.6%). The Green ecologists with 6.7% might make a come back into Parliament. As for the French speakers the Socialist Party is credited with 33.4% of the vote versus 24.5% for the Reform Movement, 19% for the Humanist Democrat Centre, 9.6% for Ecolo and 8.2% for the National Front. Finally the Reform Movement is still the leading party in Brussels (27.9%), ahead of the Socialist Party (25.9%) and the Humanist Democrat Centre (13%).
Just under a month before the election five men seem to be the most likely candidates to take the position of Prime Minister: Yves Leterme (CDV-NVA), Elio Di Rupo (PS), Didier Reynders (MR), Johan Vande Lanotte (SP.A) and head of the outgoing government, Guy Verhostadt (Open VLD).
Reminder of the General and Senatorial Elections in Belgium on 18th May 2003 :
Participation rate: 91.6% (It is obligatory to vote in Belgium)
Chamber of Representatives
Source : Agence France Presse
Source : Agence France Presse