Never before did so many Brussels voters vote for a Flemish party

In the elections to the Brussels Regional Parliament there were a record number of votes for parties standing in the Dutch-Language Electoral college. Just shy of 70,000 (69,996) votes in the capital voted for a Flemish list. Since the Brussels-Capital Region was set up in 1989 the number of votes for Flemish parties standing for the regional parliament was long in decline. In 2014 the number of votes for parties standing in the Dutch-language electoral college rose slightly. 

However, this rise was tiny compared with the more than 16,500 extra votes gained by the Flemish parties standing this time around. In 2014 53,482 Brussels voters voted for a Flemish party in the regional election, on Sunday this was 69,996.

Even taking into account a big increase in the number of voters as a whole, the 15.3% of the votes cast for parties standing in the Dutch-Language Electoral college is comparable to percentage gained by Flemish parties in the first Brussels regional elections back in 1989.      

Why the sudden increase?

There wouldn’t appear to be a single explanation for the sudden increase in popularity of Flemish parties in the capital. The Flemish greens saw their vote go up by 4,800, the far-right Vlaams Belang by almost 3,000 and the Flemish nationalists by 3,500. Furthermore, the citizens’ movement Agora polled 3,600 votes and the activist Dyab Abou Jahjah’s list Be.one was good for 3,000 votes.

Recent attention given by the Francophone media to the possibility of voting for Flemish lists in the capital could be an explanation. The blogger Marcel Sel and the political scientist Dave Sinardet both called on Francophones to vote for Flemish lists in order to stop the rise of the Flemish nationalists and Vlaams Belang in the capital. This could go some way to explaining the success of the Flemish greens in Sunday’s election.

Another explanation could be the success of Dutch-Medium education in the capital. Currently more than one in five children in Brussels are educated through the medium of Dutch. Children that have been educated through the medium of Dutch have built up a connection with the Flemish community and as a result of this might be more inclined to vote for lists standing in the Dutch-language electoral college.   

Another factor that might have played a role is the fact that those voting in the regional election in Brussels were able to see which parties were in both electoral colleges before deciding in which of the two electoral collages they wished to vote. Previously voters had first to select the Dutch-Language Electoral College on the voting computer before they knew which parties were standing in it.

As a fixed number of 17 seats are given to those elected to the Brussels Parliament from Flemish lists, the increase in the total number of votes means that more votes were required this time to get elected than was previously the case.

As a result the Be.one list got 3,000 votes but no seat, while in 2009 the Flemish nationalists won a seat with only around 2,500 votes. This time both the Flemish nationalists and Vlaams Belang increased their vote considerably compared with 5 years ago yet their number of seats remained unchanged at 3 and 1 respectively.