“Poll gain for Belgium’s far right“, headlines the BBC website after the municipal and provincial elections in Belgium last Sunday.
Most of its readers will have heard of the far right Vlaams Belang (VB, former Vlaams Blok) party and of the cordon sanitaire with which traditional parties try keeping it outside local council government. Despite – or as a result of – the cordon however, VB has been gaining votes in every election for years. Flanders, and VB stronghold Antwerp in particular, have become synonymous with the failure of traditional politicians everywhere in Europe to deal with their voters’ concerns on immigration and integration issues.
In other words, another spectacular poll gain for the Vlaams Belang fits into the picture we know. But is it correct? Well, no.
First of all, VB’s “sweeping gains” of seats in local councils are less the result of increasing support in the Flemish countryside, than of the fact that it actually put up any candidates in those places. In most places where VB candidates stood for election, people did not vote for them in larger numbers than they did on previous occasions when they could vote for VB candidates.
Second, compared to the last elections in 2004, VB lost votes – for the first time in history. In the 2004 regional elections, VB had 24.15% of the votes in the Flanders region. This year, in the provincial elections which use exactly the same constituencies as the regional ones, VB gained only 20.6% of the votes cast in Flanders. VB lost in all provinces, including its powerbase Antwerp where it gained 28.4% (province) and 33.51% (city) of the votes, compared to 30.07% (province) and 34.88 (city) in 2004.
So, indeed, VB still has good scores. But the good news of these elections is that, for the first time, its rise seems to have been stopped. At least for the moment…
Update: More on the Belgian elections in Guy’s post at AFOE.