"This is a black day for democracy"

Far-right politician Guy D'haeseleer has been ousted from the municipal coalition in Ninove (East Flanders) despite getting most votes in last October's local elections.  His dream of becoming the new Mayor collapsed as a member of the Flemish nationalist N-VA made a particular move in a political game of chess. 

Last October, the Flemish MP Guy D'haeseleer (Vlaams Belang) and his local slate "Forza Ninove" collected 40 percent of the votes in Ninove. However, he was two seats short of an absolute majority and needed to seek collaboration from other parties to install a local coalition. 

However, the traditional Flemish parties have a long-time deal to never include far-right politicians in any coalition, the so-called "cordon sanitaire". Political pundits were following the situation in Ninove, as they were curious how the issue would be solved. The Flemish nationalists of N-VA had decided to sit on the opposition benches, which meant that all the other parties together would also fail to get a majority.   

"This is a slap in the face of the local people"

The stalemate was complete, and it was looking as if Ninove would not have a new local government before 1 January. However, last night, the news emerged that N-VA politician Joost Arents is leaving the N-VA to help out a local slate S.A.M.E.N. and the Flemish liberals of Open VLD to get a majority. He told the VRT "I didn't want to leave Ninove in a political stalemate." It is said that Mr Arents took the decision against the will of his party's national cabinet. 

 The news means that Forza Ninove, who clearly won the elections, could be ousted after all. Guy D'haeseleer is angry: "This is a slap in the face of many Ninove residents, and of Flemish-minded voters in general", he wrote on his Facebook account. "This is a black day for democracy in general and for the city in particular." He also lashes out against Joost Arents, calling him "a hypocrite".

Focus on security

The new coalition just has a 1-seat majority, which means it could become tricky in the next 6 years. The issue is a sensitive one, since Vlaams Belang and the N-VA get part of their voters from the same segment in society. With Flemish and federal elections coming up in May, the N-VA - the biggest political block - risks losing voters to Vlaams Belang. 

The focus will be on security, says Mayor Tanja De Jonge (Flemish liberal). Although crime figures in Ninove are not above the Flemish average, many people apparently feel unsafe. "We also want to bring Ninove residents closer together, and tackle poverty."

Nicolas Maeterlinck

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