Almaci, the new leader of the Flemish greens, sets a first

Meyrem Almaci was elected as the new party leader of the Flemish green party Groen at a party congress yesterday. Almaci won the race against the other female candidate, Elke Van den Brandt, fetching 60 per cent of the votes. Ms Almaci is a Belgian with Turkish roots, and thus becomes the first party leader in Belgium to have roots outside the European Union.

Meyrem Almaci (38) will succeed Wouter Van Besien, who decided not to run for a new term, despite a successful spell at the helm of Groen over the past years.

Meyrem Almaci won the race against Elke Van den Brandt. A federal MP since 2007, Almaci had started as the favourite to win it. She has been in the spotlights in parliament during the debates, while her opponent was working behind the scenes, and has more experience.

The candidates put forward more or less the same ideas, but have a completely different style. Almaci has built a reputation for calling a spade a spade, and shouting loud when she has to. Van den Brandt kept a lower profile. Congress voters had to make a choice between two completely different styles.

Almaci is of Turkish descent and is proud to have become the first party leader with roots outside Europe. "It shows that our party members see diversity as a positive thing. It makes me proud, because racism and discrimination are things to be monitored."

"Give people more oxygen"

The new party head will try to give Groen a broader basis during the coming next years, together with deputy chairman Jeremie Vaneeckhout. She sees opportunities in this respect, as many citizens are becoming increasingly unhappy with the policies set out by the current right-wing federal and Flemish governments. The latest round of austerity measures and cuts is bad news for many middle-class families, while the rich are being spared, trades unions say. A tax on capital gains, dubbed the "rich tax" was swept off the table during the negotiations.

"We want to provide the oxygen for the people who are being confronted with the choking right-wing policies", Almaci said. Groen is traditionally a small party in Flanders, clinching between 5 and 10 per cent of the votes, and often ending up in the opposition. One of the objectives is to pass the milestone of 10 per cent during the next elections.

Socialists: "Let's join forces against the right-wing block"

The Flemish socialist leader Bruno Tobback has repeated his wish to join forces with Groen and form one big left-wing opposition. He was reaching out to Meyrem Almaci just after she had been elected. "I hope that the SP.A and Groen can co-operate on the opposition benches to voice the concerns of the man in the street. Together we stand strong!"

It doesn't seem probable that Groen will accept the proposal. Groen wants to grow on its own, and become a bigger player in the political landscape. "We are the future for the progressive voters in Flanders", Almaci said.