The socialists and liberals in power win the belgian general elections


Corinne Deloy,  

Fondation Robert Schuman,  

Helen Levy


18 May 2003

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Deloy Corinne

Corinne Deloy

Author of the European Elections Monitor (EEM) for the Robert Schuman Foundation and project manager at the Institute for Political Studies (Sciences Po).

Robert Schuman Fondation

Fondation Robert Schuman

Levy Helen

Helen Levy

Victory for the two main parties of the outgoing government : liberals and socialists

The Liberals and Socialists were the victors in the Belgian general elections on Sunday by winning 97 of the 150 seats in the Belgian Federal Parliament. "It is a fantastic result. It is the first time in a decade that the Prime Minister's party has won the elections and the first time since 1985 that a Prime Minister has ensured an excellent result for both his majority and his party. I think that the electorate has provided us with a mandate to continue our work of modernising the country over the next few years." Declared the outgoing Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt when the results were announced. The Liberal and Democrat (VLD) leader Karel de Gucht, stressed that "the logic of the results calls for a 'Verhofstadt II', the two parliamentary groups (liberal and socialist) have to become the backbone of the next government." Since the VLD is still the leading political movement in Flanders, the most populous part of the country (around 55% of the population), Guy Verhofstadt, who presented the resignation of his government coalition on 19th May to the Belgian King Albert 11, is to be called upon to lead negotiations to form the next government.

Even though the Liberals in the Reform Movement (MR, French speaking) and the VLD (Flemish speaking) won 8 seats more than during the last general elections on 13th June 1999 (the VLD has progressed in numbers of votes for the fifth election running), the socialists of the SP.A (Socialist Party, Flemish speaking) and the PS (French speaking) won 14 additional seats. In Flanders the extremely popular leader of the SP.A, Deputy Prime Minister and former Mobility Minister of the Flemish government, Steve Stevaert, won his wager by modernising his party and allying himself with the moderate regionalists of the Spirit movement, improving his number of seats in the Federal Parliament by a third; this was double his party's results than in the last general election in some constituencies. On the French speaking side the PS recorded a improvement of two seats, thereby managing to squeeze ahead of the Reform Movement led by the Foreign Affairs Minister Louis Michel. The President of the PS, Elio di Rupo welcomed his party's achievement, "the greatest victory in fifteen years. We have strengthened our position as the leading party of the Wallonia-Brussels community," emphasised the socialist leader. Guy Verhofstadt moves back to his seat as Prime Minister and he will now have to reckon with the socialists who have said they are ready to accept a second mandate with the same partners, but nevertheless they emerge strengthened from this general election. The social democrats are more reticent than the liberals about undertaking new tax reductions (the drop in taxes features in the Liberals' election programme) and are ardent defenders of the present social security system.

The election losers: Ecologists and Christian Democrats.

The Christian Democrats of the Christian Democrat Party (CD&V) (Flemish speaking) who were ousted from government in 1999 after nearly a forty year reign and the Democrat Humanist Centre (CDH) (French speaking) did not manage to find their way back into power, losing one and two seats respectively in the Federal Parliament. Joëlle Milquet, president of the Human Democrat Centre declared that she wanted "to concentrate now on the regional and European elections in May and June 2004." Stefaan De Clerck, the former Justice Minister and Mayor of Courtrai, the Christian Democrat candidate for Prime Minister admitted that his party "did not achieve the great victory he had hoped for."

But the real losers of these general elections are certainly the Ecologists, who, just four years ago had made a spectacular entry into the government to the backdrop of the dioxin chicken scandal, has now collapsed in both Flanders and Wallonia. Since Agalev, the Flemish speaking party, did not manage to win 5% of the votes expressed it lost 9 seats in Parliament, an historic setback in Belgian political history. The French speaking Ecolo only managed to retain four of their eleven MP's. "This is a heavy blow for Agalev. We cannot deny it. The electorate gave us no credit for having participated in the government," declared Magda Aelvoet, the former Health Minister and manager of the Flemish speaking ecologist party. "We now have to take time to analyse quietly this electoral failure. It seems almost impossible to be in the majority now," stressed Olivier Deleuze, who resigned as Secretary of State for Energy just a few days ago. On the French speaking side, Isabelle Durant, an Ecolo member and former Transport minister, who left the government just before the general elections declared: "We assumed our responsibilities in 1999 when we won. Now we have lost, we also have to assume them ..."

An extreme right that continues to progress

Apart from the Liberal and Socialist victory and the terrible defeat of the ecologist movements, the general elections were also the occasion for new progress to be made by the extreme rightwing movements. In Flanders, the Vlaams Blok (VB) with 18 seats, have three more MP's at the Federal Parliament in comparison with the last general election on 13th June 1999. The party that won more than 30% of the vote in Anvers, seems essentially to have won votes from the Christian Democrat Party. On the French speaking side the National Front (FN) has remained stable (one seat only) but records a significant rise in votes in the South of Wallonia (in Hainaut, the party won between 7% and 8%), and particularly in Charleroi where it rallied 12% of the electorate.

Guy Verhofstadt should therefore be the next head of the Belgian government. The outgoing Prime Minister who is 51 entered politics at a very young age. At 28 he was Chairman of the Liberals and Democrats (VLD), and an MP at 32; he then went on to become Deputy Prime Minister of the coalition government led by Wilfried Martens in 1985. Sent into the opposition in 1988 he stayed there for eleven years failing in the general elections in 1991 and 1995, the year he gave up the chairmanship of his party. After having spent some time in the wilderness Guy Verhofstadt won in 1999 the Prime Minister's seat that had been occupied for nearly 40 years by the Christian Democrats.

Over the last four years he has undertaken a number of social reforms (permission for homosexuals to marry, partial legalisation of euthanasia, tolerance of the consumption of cannabis etc ...) He also managed to improve Belgium's international image: the Prime Minister presented his country's excuses to the Rwandan people for Belgium's behaviour during the 1994 genocide. Belgium also ensured the presidency of the European Union between July and December 2001 with clear-sightedness and energy just at the moment of the terrorist attacks on New York. Finally the law of universal competence that enables Belgian courts to try the originators of genocide and war crimes that are committed anywhere in the world helped provide Belgium a special position on an international level. Economically the Rainbow Coalition led by Guy Verhofstadt succeeded in presenting, for the first time in fifty years, a balanced set of national accounts, and this in spite of a very high national debt. In addition to this the government's action was distinguished by tax reductions on income and companies as well as the adoption of the Rosetta plan that enabled the increase of social allowances and the employment of 120,000 under qualified young people. Guy Verhofstadt, who can also claim to have created 160,000 jobs, failed however in his promise to reduce unemployment, since the peak of 400,000 unemployed (that corresponds with the number of unemployed in June 1999) was crossed last month. Finally the Prime Minister was unable to prevent the bankruptcy of the national aviation company, Sabena.

During the electoral campaign Guy Verhofstadt asserted several times that he did not want to govern again with the Ecologist parties, and so he will have to call on the Socialists to join him within the future government. The latter, in the shape of Foreign Affairs Minister Louis Michel has not excluded the opening of a government coalition to other partners, such as for example, the Christian Democrats of the CD&V and the CDH. But the government's composition will only be revealed in a few weeks time after intense negotiations between the country's different Flemish and French speaking parties.

Results of the Belgian General Elections on 18th May 2003:

Participation : 88% (Participation is obligatory in Belgium).

Source Agence France Presse

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