12/06/2007 - Results
As forecast in the polls the Flemish Christian Democrat Party (CD&V) led by the Minister President of Flanders, Yves Leterme, allied to the New Flemish Alliance (NV-A), easily won the general and senatorial elections in Belgium on 10th June, with 18.51% of the vote in the Chamber of Representatives (30 seats) and 19.4% in the Senate (9 seats).
The Liberals and Democrats (Open VLD) led by outgoing Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, are the major losers in this election. They won 11.83% of the vote in the Chamber (18 seats) and 12.40% in the Senate (5). The party of the outgoing Head of Government in office for the last eight years was overtaken by the Vlaams Belang (VB) which, without making any progress in terms of votes – even losing a seat for the first time in the department of Anvers, won 11.99% of the vote in the Chamber (17 seats) and 11.89% in the Senate (5). Vlaams Belang chairman, Frank Vanhecke says that this result is the fourth consecutive victory of his party and "a major, well deserved defeat for the violet leftwing coalition." However the Vlaams Belang has no chance of coming to power due to the 'cordon sanitaire' which all the other parties have placed around it. The Socialist Party (SP.A) led by Johan Vande Lanotte recorded a severe setback achieving 10.26% of the vote in the Chamber (14 seats) and 10.04% in the Senate (4).
The ecologist party Groen led by Vera Dua succeeded winning back its place in the Chamber of Representatives from which it was excluded four years ago, with 3.98% of the vote (4 seats) and 3.64% in the Senate (1). Finally the populist list led by Senator Jean-Marie Dedecker, former selector for the Belgian judo team was the source of surprise by winning 4.03% of the vote in the Chamber (5 seats) and 3.64% in the Senate (1) in this its first federal election.
The Socialist Party (PS) led by Minister President of Wallonia, Elio Di Rupo, which has been marked by several corruption scandals and that have pointed towards his MPs, lost its status of leading French-speaking party for the first time ever recording a decline in comparison with 2003: 10.86% of the vote (20 seats) in the Chamber and 12.80% in the Senate (6). The Socialists were overtaken by the Reform Movement (MR) led by Finance Minister Didier Reynders who won his wager taking 12.52% of the vote in the Chamber (23 seats) and 12.31% in the Senate (6). Didier Reynders said he was pleased with the result: "The centre of gravity within the French community has moved. Today the centre of political decision no longer belongs to the Socialist Party." The Reform Movement is the only party in the government coalition to have moved forwards.
The Humanist Democrat Centre (CDH) led by Joëlle Milquet has also progressed but is disappointed given the results of its Dutch-speaking counterpart. The party won 6.06% of the vote in the Chamber (10 seats) and 5.90% in the Senate (2). Another party that has progressed is Ecolo, the ecologists led by former minister Isabelle Durant which has benefited from the decline of the Socialist Party and achieved good results, nearly beating their parliamentary record of 1999, 5.10% of the vote in the Chamber (8 seats) and 5.82% in the Senate (2). The ecologist party perceives the reasons for its success in the approval of its political project and its refusal to confront other parties. Finally the far right, the National Front, won 1.97% of the vote in the Chamber (1 seat) and 2.27% in the Senate (1) maintaining its status in comparison with its result on 18th May 2003.
After eight years on the opposition benches the Flemish Christian Democrat Party that led Belgium uninterrupted from 1830 on has come back to power. "The time for change has come. With this victory we have to have a feeling of responsibility. We have to understand what the electorate is expecting of us. More security, more justice and a modern reform of the State, these are the aims of our programme and from tomorrow on they will be our leitmotif," declared Yves Leterme to a number of supporters who were waving the Flemish flag (a black lion on a yellow background) whilst the black-yellow-red flag of Belgium was nowhere to be seen.
The results of the parliamentary elections should lead to the reform of the institutions, since the Flemish Christian-Democrat Party's programme promises to strengthen federalisation in Belgium notably providing greater autonomy to the regions. "What we can expect of Yves Leterme is acceleration in the federalisation process. It has been his explicit promise," stresses political science professor at the University of Gent, Carl Devos. The French-speaking parties are however against a reform of the institutions in which they perceive the overtures of a breaking up of the country; this would oblige them to find the necessary funding for new competences although the coffers of Wallonia are empty. The Humanist Democrat Centre, the counterpart of the Christian Democrats in Wallonia is the most hostile towards new transfers of competence to the regions; its chairman, Joëlle Milquet, has on several occasions said that his party would firmly be against "any institutional move that would be against French speakers' interests." "We are moving into troubled waters. Yves Leterme's demand to reform the State is contrary to the will of the French speakers," maintained Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Minister, Laurette Onkelinx (PS). "I feel that in Flanders everyone is going to get increasingly radical. The task will therefore be a difficult one for the French speakers," maintained André Antoine, Vice-President of the Walloon government. "The four French-speaking parties (PS, MR, CDH and Ecolo) have at least one thing in common: and that is to say 'No' to ridiculous institutional demands," he added.
Outgoing Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt quickly acknowledged his defeat and congratulated Yves Leterme. "The electorate clearly chose another majority," he declared, "I was the leading figure of the party in these elections. I take full responsibility for the result. We have paid for having led the country for eight years but that does not diminish the strength of our project in any way. With the Chairman (of Open, VLD) Bart Somers we are now ready for the future." The outgoing Head of Government, who believes that the electorate unfortunately did not associate the country's good economic situation with the policy undertaken by the government during the last term in office, defended his results as head of the coalitions he has led: "The country is on the right road. We have achieved major progress with regard to ethics and on an international level, our voice has been heard." Finally he insisted on saying what a pleasure it had been to be Prime Minister maintaining that Belgium was "a marvellous country, but which was too modest sometimes," and that he "had been very proud" to lead it.
"In comparison with 2004 (date of the regional elections), it has not been a thrashing but rather a fall," stressed the Chairman of the Chamber of Representatives, Herman De Croo (Open VLD). When interviewed about possible participation with the Liberals and Democrats in the next government coalition he said that "if such a request were made we would have to insist on our principles and be extremely hard." "We shall only take part in this majority if we are not treated like menials," he concluded. In Didier Reynders opinion the decline of the socialist family in Brussels, Wallonia and Flanders is the main lesson to be learnt from the elections on 10th June. "We have become the leading party in Brussels again and we are close to achieving the same thing amongst the French community," he declared.
Many analysts say that the fall of the Dutch speaking Socialist Party is the expression of the will on the part of the Flanders electorate to punish the French speaking Socialist Party which has been decimated by repeated corruption affairs and their desire to push the party into the opposition since both the Dutch and French speaking parties always govern together. Elio Di Rupo must therefore think about his inability to impose his authority and credibility, which were however the keys to his success as the head of Wallonia, on his comrades in Charleroi, the town where all the scandals have taken place. The result of these elections is a "call for a change in behaviour given the unacceptable mistakes made by some individuals," said Elio Di Rupo. "The time has come to make some radical decisions and I shall do it," he added, maintaining that he would "multiply his efforts by two" in order to give the Socialist Party its "true place back". Combing acts and words, the Minister President of Wallonia decided to place the community socialist union, the local sections of the party as well as the federation of the Socialist Party in Charleroi under the guardianship of the party's Head office. For the next two years any decision taken by the local organisations of the party will exclusively be the responsibility of the National Bureau.
For his part his Dutch counterpart, Budget, Community Equipment and North Sea Minister, Johan Vande Lanotte announced that he would resign from the head of the party to be replaced by Caroline Gennez. The Socialist leader first explained the defeat of his party saying that the elections had been won by "parties who had used the anti-Walloon trend," i.e. the Flemish Christian Democrat Party, the New Flemish Alliance and the Vlaams Belang. The refusal of the Liberals, Socialists and Ecologist to set some Belgians against others explained, in his opinion, their failure on 10th June. The Socialist leader also tried to explain what he qualified as 'a heavy defeat' by a confusion in the message conveyed by the SP.A in the debate on the Prime Minister which he says prevented the electorate from seeing the benefits of his party's programme. Finally when interviewed about the future government coalition he refused to reply: "We are not going to react to that. We are simply not involved. Now we are going to concentrate on ourselves," explaining, "that our normal position is in the opposition. The reverse would be surprising. We are weak given the number of seats we have and we are not necessary in the creation of a majority." In the end he said that leftwing parties "were on the defensive" everywhere in Europe. "It is a swing in the balance, but long term the situation will settle down," he stressed.
"The time for dreaming is over. Yves Leterme is not very exciting but he has his feet on the ground. He is an uncharismatic figure, a terrible speaker but reputed for his seriousness. He is attractive because he is boring. He corresponds with the traditional image of the Flemish worker," maintains Pascal Delwitt, political science professor at the Free University in Brussels. Mr Leterme, who is nearly 47, defines himself as "Flemish, Belgian, European" according to a definite order – he is a graduate in law and political science from the University of Gent and started his career as an auditor at the Auditor's Court between 1987 and 1989. Born of a Walloon father and a Flemish mother he speaks both French and Dutch perfectly. On 27th June 2003 Yves Leterme took over as head of the Flemish Christian Democrat Party when it was at its lowest ebb. Since he took over power Mr Leterme who defends the union of his party with the nationalists of the New Flemish Alliance (N-VA) won all the by-elections before winning through on 10th June. Minister President of Flanders, Agriculture and Fisheries Minister in the Flemish government since 2004 he is as popular amongst the Dutch speakers as he is deemed dangerous amongst the French community. A former expert for the European Commission Yves Leterme firmly believes in Europe.
In line with the Constitution outgoing Prime Minister, Guy Verhofstadt presented his resignation to King Albert II on 11th June. Yves Leterme, the winner of the elections, has now been given the responsibility of forming the next government coalition which will have an equal number of French and Dutch-speaking ministers.
The Minister President of Flanders will now have to manage relations with his allies in the New Flemish Alliance who will ensure that he keeps his electoral promises and yet convince the French-speaking parties to govern with him. According to some analysts Yves Leterme might, as far as the Flemish are concerned privilege a tripartite alliance with the Liberals and the Ecologists. Forecasts are being made difficult by the swing to the right taken by the Flemish electorate and the continuation of the Socialist Party in Wallonia. Until now Yves Leterme has not given any information about the coalition he might form. "We want to do this with all the parties who are ready to build a positive future for the country," he indicated. In addition to this the future Prime Minister will have to succeed in ensuring a two-thirds majority in Parliament in order to be able to apply his reforms.
It will be difficult to form the future government coalition according to political expert Vincent de Coorebyter who spoke of the results on the TV channel RTBF. "Negotiations will be very long," forecasts Pascal Delwitt who even says they will last six months.
Results of the General and Senatorial Elections in Belgium 10th June 2007
Participation rate: 97.21% (It is obligatory to vote in Belgium)
Chamber of Representatives