Lies, statistics and preconceptions

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.

One Response to “Lies, statistics and preconceptions”

  1. Dirk Gonthier Says:

    It is true, the results of the local elections in Flanders gave mixed signals. But to compare the local election with the 2004 regional election, is a bridge too far. First of all, the VB allways has its worse scores in local elections, in contradiction to the CD&V, that allways has its best election results in local elections. I remember clearly the euphoric articels that appeared in our press after 2000 (the previous local elections), because the VB was stopped for the first time in elections. Indeed, also in 2000 the VB had a score that was below the previous (regional or federal) elections. Now, they write just the same articles, notwithstanding the fact that the VB has grown constantly through the years.

    Either way, these results confirm the trend that, to be able to have a Flemish majority behind it, the next Belgian government will exist (from Flemish side) out of the three traditionel parties, leaving the VB as the only opposition party in Flanders, aswell on a Flemish level as on Belgian level. Since the Flemish politicians show daily their complete incompetance in negotiations with the Walloons to form a policy that has the support of the majority of the Flemings behind it, the common support for our traditional parties can only shrink. There are in politics very few laws, except the one that says: ‘Governing is choosing; choosing in losing’. And, indeed, I know of no political party or coalition that was ever blessed with eternal power in a democracy.

    Furthermore, politics are a fluent matter. The VLD has expelled J.M. Dedecker, a man who had 40% of the votes on the latest VLD-chairman election, because he condemned the left politics of the Belgian prime-minister Verhofstadt (VLD). If J.M. Dedecker succeeds in building an alternative liberal party in Flanders, together with Coveliers, the third most popular politician in Antwerp where he and his party (VLOTT) formed a cartel with the VB, they can really hurt the VLD the coming years. Just because the left politics of Verhofstadt, the VLD has known nothing but election-defeats, since they got into power (1999).

    This new party is a threat for the Vlaams Belang, because it holds now already most dark-blue votes, but it is also a chance for the VB, because aswell Coveliers as Dedecker have repeatedly said in the past that they would prefer forming a coalition with the VB. Liberal voters, who have too much difficulties with the views of the VB on the migrant-issue, can be reached that way.

    Anyway, it is much too soon to predict what the futur has in store for the VB, for the Flemings and for Belgium.

    I hope you have a good evening.
    DG

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