Tomorrow it is an election day in Belgium. It is called the “Mother of All Elections”. Not really my words, but they are heard all over in the media. There are two reason for this. First, the election is not only for the European level, but also for the regional level (in my case the Flemish Parliament) and the National level (the Chamber of Representatives). This means that the chances are that people choose for the same party over all these levels. Therefor a party that wins/lose the elections will likely do so for the three levels. Second, the next election will be in 2019. The party that wins/loses the elections will do so for the next five years. These two things combined means that these elections are extremely important for the politicians.
It showed. In general the battle over the favor of the people was pretty fierce, not only between opponents, but also between allies. There were lots of strong statements, name calling and misrepresentations of the other parties. Hopefully no bridges were blown, they still have to cooperate with each other after the elections.
An interesting development was the campaign of the Flemish green party. In the second half of last year I noticed that there were no green themes in their program. In stead they focused, like all other parties, on social themes like the pensions, economy, unemployment, education, health care and so on. In their media campaign the closest they get to the environment is that they “want affordable energy” (without saying that the focus on “renewable” energy made energy expensive in the first place). When looking a bit deeper on their website there were some mentions of climate. I found for example the term “climate pollution”, whatever that may be (probably yet another poetic name for CO2 emissions). Two mentions of “climate change”, but just in passing, not even as a theme. Not even a mention of global warming.
Strange, before it was brought as the most important theme that challenges our society. Some people complained that global warming/climate change was not a subject in the elections. But on the other hand it is not a surprise knowing that the current interest of the Flemish people is not in climate change. In The Photo of Flanders (a poll from the beginning of the year on the priorities of the people of Flanders) climate change was near the bottom of the list. No wonder that the politicians were not eager to make it as a part of their campaign. Focusing on a topic in which the Flemish people are not interested would be political suicide. That would explain why Green party didn’t use climate as an important theme, but instead focused on the themes that were of interest of the Flemish people, well, our pensions, economy, unemployment and so on.
The only party that made climate and 100% renewable energy a theme (very sparely) are the socialists. They were in election fever and although their program leans very close to the green party’s program, they seem to see them as competitors, not allies. So I was surprised to hear them state a couple weeks back in the media that a vote for the green party is a vote against the socialist party. A bit later it baffled me those two were used as two opponents in an election program. I don’t think there are two parties that are closer together. Probably they wanted to snatch some green votes. The hostility didn’t last very long. After seeing only good figures for the green party the socialists started courting the green party again to form a front against the evil right party. They will be fine after all.
In general the important theme was the economy. All the mayor parties did a calculation on how they would tackle the economic crisis. We got a lot of scenario’s, but no chance to check them properly before the elections. The check will be finished only long AFTER the elections and a new government is in place…hopefully the winning party made a correct calculation…
Now it is waiting until tomorrow. But in a fierce campaign where all parties called each others names and make strong statements, hopefully they didn’t regret some things they said. Whatever the result of this election will be, it will be interesting to watch the coalitions being formed, to say the least.
In the meanwhile the results of the election are in and are interesting. The expectation that people voted for roughly the same parties on these three levels came true. There was a mayor victory for N-VA (center right), that at the flip of a switch became the biggest party in Flanders, even in the country. Some speak about the “yellow wave”. The mayor victim was Vlaams Belang (extreme right) that lost about 2/3 of their seats. The traditional parties christian/socialist/liberal (that were until now in power) had only minor losses. The only other party that didn’t loose were the flemish greens. They did well and got some extra seats, but not enough to make them interesting for the other parties to make a coalition with.
The victory of N-VA was big, very big, but probably ultimately not big enough. The traditional parties are still strong and when they would make a coalition together, they still would have a majority, placing N-VA in the opposition. That makes the formation of a new government rather complicated. Adding to that, the south of the country (Wallonia) voted completely different. The socialist party stayed the largest there. Another difficulty is that only few parties want to make a coalition with N-VA, especially not the socialist party. The game is played tactically now. N-VA has the initiative now, but traditional parties still could rely on their own coalition that would make N-VA redundant and would put the victor into the opposition. Putting them into a rather strong position although they lost. Interesting times ahead.
But chances are that although one party won the elections big time, the change that many were hoping for will not materialize at all…