So what does yesterday’s result mean?
All Belgians aged 18 and over were called upon to have their say on the political state of the country. The votes are in and the composition of the various parliaments has become clear. Belgian voters have shuffled the cards and it is now up to the politicians to build bridges and put various governments in place. But what is the context in which they will have to do this?
In Flanders the far right Vlaams Belang romped home picking up thousands of extra votes and becoming the second party of Flanders. Since 1991 all other parties have shunned co-operation with the far right. With the party taking a twenty percent share of the Flemish vote the issue of whether or not to work together with Vlaams Belang is once again squarely on the political table for discussion. Strikingly the leader of the Flemish nationalists – still Flanders’ biggest party – has not yet slammed the door in the faces of Vlaams Belang.
The Vlaams Belang success also means that all the traditional parties have been squeezed. The numerical weakness of the traditional parties and the difficulty to build coalitions may be the biggest concrete result of the Vlaams Belang success.
This election was the first in recent years that the Flemish nationalist N-VA haemorrhaged support. Mr De Wever’s party lost up to 7% of the vote. The party is weakened, but still the strongest in Belgium. The party hoped to make itself indispensable with a view to forming the next federal government. This hasn’t entirely succeeded.
In Flanders nationalists, Christian democrats and liberals retain a majority in the Flemish Parliament and could continue in office.
Voters have not been kind to Belgium’s political class that will have to set up a new federal government: Flanders voted centre-right, Francophonia voted centre-left. Nearly half of all Flemish votes went to the far right or right wing nationalists. This result was mirrored to the left in Francophonia with the left and the far left picking up half the votes. These parties may be poles apart but seem condemned to work together. However, the Michel I coalition of Flemish and Francophone liberals, Flemish nationalists and Flemish Christian democrats has no majority, not even beefed up with the Francophone Christian democrats. A six party coalition of traditional parties from both sides of the divide has no majority either. A coalition of the six socialist, liberal and green parties has a one seat majority.
Despite the recent mobilisation of the climate change generation green parties failed to make a breakthrough. However, the greens made headway in all areas and in all parliaments. In Brussels Groen is the biggest Flemish party. Groen did well in Ghent as well as in Leuven and Antwerp where it is the second party. The ecologists are clearly a player in the complicated coalition building talks that will now start.