Municipal elections in Belgium: Flemish Interest halted in Antwerp but advancing elsewhere

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Monday, October 9, 2006

Antwerp city hall

In the 2006 municipal elections in Belgium, the political party Vlaams Belang ("Flemish Cause") advanced in almost all municipalities, just like the last elections. But its rise was brought to a halt in the cities Mechelen and also in its stronghold Antwerp.

Vlaams Belang is considered by observers and opponents as a far right party, supporting Flemish independence from Belgium and restricted immigration.

Just one week before the elections, Antwerp was the scene of the 0110 concerts, organised against racism, extremism and gratuitous violence. The event was spurred by a series of acts of "pointless violence" during the last year (the murder of Joe Van Holsbeeck, the case Hans Van Themsche and the events surrounding Guido Demoor. However, Vlaams Belang asked many musicians to boycott the event, because it "only targets Vlaams Belang". The party considered the concerts as a direct attack by the political establishment. Since 1989, the other parties have instituted a cordon sanitaire against Vlaams Belang, forcing them into the opposition, notwithstanding their increasing electorial success.

Cartoon from a Vlaams Belang electoral brochure, showing a white man waiting in line to vote for Vlaams Belang (VB) in a line full of immigrants, thinking "More than ever, Vlaams Belang". This was the first ballot since immigrants were given voting rights in municipal elections in 2004.

In 2004, three organisations that were at the heart of the Vlaams Blok party were condemned for incitement to hate and discrimination, and the party reformed consequently and changed their name to Vlaams Belang, although the party top remained unchanged.

During the last poll in 2000, Vlaams Belang became the largest political fraction in Antwerp, with 33% of votes. However, the other parties, calling themselves the "democratic parties", adhering to the cordon sanitaire, joined together to prevent Vlaams Belang from entering into power.

On Sunday, the political cartel SP.A-Spirit obtained 35,5% of votes in Antwerp, which was 15,5% more than in the 2000 elections, while the cartel Vlaams Belang - VLOTT got 33,5% of votes. Before the elections, Vlaams Belang had set the target for Antwerp at 35% of the votes.

The electorial success of SP.A-Spirit was accompanied by a loss of votes for the coalition partners in Antwerp. Filip Dewinter, the leader of Vlaams Belang, called SP.A leader and mayor of Antwerp Patrick Janssens a cannibal, because his party seemed to have consumed the other members of the majority. Patrick Janssens received 71 289 personal votes (71% of the party's total), while Dewinter, last year's champion of personal votes in Antwerp, got 62 642 votes on his name.

In many countryside towns, Vlaams Belang participated in the elections for the first time, and immediately scored around 10%. In Schoten, Lier (both not far from Antwerp) and other places, Vlaams Belang became the largest fraction, and the question remains if the cordon sanitaire will be upheld in these communes.

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