Federal elections for the House of Representatives and 40 Senate seats were held in Belgium on Sunday, June 13. I had attempted to provide a brief analysis and overview of the problems and issues in one of Europe’s most divided countries in a preview post. This snap election had come as a result of the collapse of the Leterme II cabinet this year over a major dispute concerning the electoral constituency of Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde (BHV). Apart from the far-left, there are no ‘national’ parties in Belgium since the late 70s when the three main political families: socialists, liberals and Christian democrats each split up into a Dutch party and a French-Walloon party. Though most of the mainstream various parties maintain informal links with each other, some links are weak (as the quasi-inexistent links between Flemish CD&V and Walloon cdH) and all parties must negotiate to form a coalition, a coalition which always threatens to explode over linguistic issues and contentious border disputes (in the past, Voeren-Fourons and today BHV). The truth, however, is that the federal government has limited and declining authority in a country with six million institutional levels.
Voting is compulsory in Belgium, though abstention yesterday climbed up 2.3% to reach 15.9%. White or null votes climbed 0.7% to reach 5.8%. Here are the results. Please note that the CD&V and N-VA formed an electoral cartel in 2007 which gave 7 deputies and 1 elected senator to the N-VA. The CD&V’s results in 2010 are compared to that of the 2007 cartel. The Sp.a and Spirit formed an electoral cartel in 2007, but Spirit, renamed SLP, has disappeared. Lastly, some parties, such as the FN, ran lists in only a few electoral constituencies and not in all. No party except the PTB+ (Wallonia) and PvdA+ (Flanders) ran lists north and south.
Chamber of Deputies (national)
N-VA 17.40% (+17.40%) winning 27 seats (+20)
PS 13.70% (+2.84%) winning 26 seats (+6)
CD&V 10.85% (-7.66%) winning 17 seats (-6)
MR 9.28% (-3.24%) winning 18 seats (-5)
Sp.a 9.24% (-1.02%) winning 13 seats (-1)
Open VLD 8.64% (-3.19%) winning 13 seats (-5)
Vlaams Belang 7.76% (-4.23%) winning 12 seats (-5)
cdH 5.52% (-0.53%) winning 9 seats (-1)
Ecolo 4.8% (-0.31%) winning 8 seats (nc)
Groen! 4.38% (+0.40%) winning 5 seats (+1)
Lijst Dedecker 2.31% (-1.72%) winning 1 seat (-4)
PP 1.29% (+1.29%) winning 1 seats (+1)
PvdA+ 0.81% (+0.24%) winning 0 seats (nc)
PTB+ 0.6% (+0.37%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Wallonie d’abord 0.56% (+0.56%) winning 0 seats (nc)
RWF 0.55% (+0.15%) winning 0 seats (nc)
FN 0.51% (-1.45%) winning 0 seats (-1)
Dutch Voters: N-VA 27.8%, CD&V 17.3%, Sp.a 14.6%, Open VLD 13.6%, VB 12.3%, Groen 6.9%, LDD 3.7%, OTH 3.8%
French Voters: PS 37.6%, MR 22.2%, cdH 14.6%, Ecolo 12.3%, PP 3.1%, FN 1.4%, OTH 8.8%
Overall: ‘Anti-Belgian State’ and regionalists (Flemish nationalists, Walloon regionalists and rattachistes) 28.58%, Socialists 22.94%, Liberals 17.92%, Catholics 16.37%, Greens 9.18%, Far-left 1.41%, PP 1.29%, French far-right 0.51%
Overall Seats: Flemish Nationalists 40, Socialists 39, Liberals 31, Catholics 26, Greens 13, PP 1
N-VA 31.69% (+31.69%) winning 9 seats (+8)
CD&V 16.15% (-15.26%) winning 4 seats (-4)
Sp.a 15.31% (-0.92%) winning 4 seats (nc)
Open VLD 13.32% (-6.74%) winning 4 seats (-1)
Vlaams Belang 12.28% (-6.94%) winning 3 seats (-2)
Groen! 6.28% (+0.40%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Lijst Dedecker 3.27% (-2.20%) winning 0 seats (-1)
PvdA+ 1.35% (+0.50%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Secessionist and Nationalist Parties 47.24% (35.96% in 2009)
PS 34.72% (+8.89%) winning 7 seats (+3)
MR 24.32% (-7.93%) winning 4 seats (-2)
Ecolo 14.32% (-0.92%) winning 2 seats (nc)
cdH 13.46% (-1.99%) winning 2 seats (nc)
PP 4.01% (+4.01%) winning 1 seats (+1)
Wallonie d’abord 2.52% (+2.52%) winning 0 seats (nc)
PTB+ 2.07% (+1.28%) winning 0 seats (nc)
RWF 1.64% (+0.37%) winning 0 seats (nc)
FN 0.00% (-5.95%) winning 0 seats (-1)
This is a rather marking election in Belgian history: for the first time ever, a party which is opposed to the existence of the Belgian state itself has topped the poll nationwide, and parties opposed to the current Belgian state – that is, either regionalists (Wallonie d’abord) or parties wishing the end of the Belgian state in some form or another, have nearly 30% of the nationwide vote. I don’t think there’s any other country where a party or parties whose ultimate goal is the destruction of said state as a sovereign entity can reach nearly 30% (Quebec doesn’t count as it isn’t a country).
In Flanders, the winner is the N-VA. Their electoral appeal shows that in the past support for Flemish autonomy or independence was not concentrated entirely in the controversial Vlaams Belang, but rather in all parties. In fact, all parties except Groen! saw their vote share fall as it was squeezed by Bart de Wever’s party. The N-VA has shown that despite a rocky start in 2003 (when it won only 1 seat, as Bart de Wever pointed out last night), it can be a party for a vast majority of Flemish nationalists because it both shares Flanders’ traditional conservatism but is not xenophobic or controversial like the VB. That is a very important point. In the Senatorial ballot, the N-VA won 31.7% – a result far superior to most polling and an excellent showing for any party in a very divided political system. Bart de Wever’s personality and popular appeal explains the difference between the showings of the N-VA in the lower and upper house. The N-VA also dominates largely throughout Flanders, proving that Flemish nationalism isn’t concentrated in one or two province. It is ahead in Antwerp, the VB’s old stronghold, as well in Ghent, Ostende, Bruges, Leuven and most of BHV’s Dutch areas. The only major city on the lower house ballot where it is not ahead is Kortrijk (Courtrai). Only what I assume are wealthy areas (for Open VLD) or deeply Catholic areas around Ypres (for the CD&V) didn’t place the N-VA on top in the Senate ballot. The only potential issue for the N-VA now is that its large electoral coalition from 2010 might unravel, especially if it enters government. The mainstream CD&V, Sp.a and VLD all fell to the N-VA, though the socialists resisted best while the CD&V totally unraveled after a poor campaign and the unpopularity of outgoing Prime Minister Yves Leterme. Open VLD, without Verhofstadt’s persona appeal this time, fell quite badly, especially in the Senate where Verhofstadt’s Senate candidacy in 2007 had helped it limit the unraveling in 2007. Vlaams Belang, traditionally the nationalist party, fell quite badly, also falling victim to the N-VA’s spectacular gains. Immigration and security were lesser issues in this campaign and the party couldn’t resist to a party which appeals to their traditional electorate especially well. Groen!’s performance is quite impressive, given that their vote wasn’t squeezed too much by the N-VA, even though overlap between both parties is scarce (although their MEPs sit in the same group, along with Ecolo MEPs). The Lijst Dedecker also fell victim to the N-VA’s success though the remnants of a favourite son vote for Dedecker himself in West Flanders has given them one lone seat in the lower house.
In Wallonia, the winner is the PS and all other parties are losers (except the far-left). The PS had suffered in 2007, especially in its traditional stronghold in Charleroi and Hainaut Province due to bad corruption scandals in Charleroi which were in the headlines in 2006 and 2007. Thanks to a popular government at the regional level as well as a campaign based around the defense of social spending in the wake of the recession, the PS vote was boosted by around the same amount as the MR vote receded, although, compared to pre-election polling, the MR did manage to hold tight. The PS returned to sky-high results in Charleroi, where its up around 20% since 2007, and throughout the mining regions of Hainaut and Liège. In Liège, the well-known Michel Daerden won an historic result for himself despite being last placed on the party’s list after internal feuds. The MR, as mentioned earlier, did slightly better than expected and held up well in both BHV and the Brussels commuter land in the Walloon Brabant. The MR’s close links to Olivier Mangain’s FDF in the BHV area likely helped it, though the area is sociologically inclined to vote for them. Ecolo, riding high (17-18%) in polling, must be quite disappointed but if they learned anything from 2009, they should have been expecting it. They overpolled by roughly 4% in 2009 and they again overpolled by 4% in 2010. Quite surprisingly, Ecolo’s total vote share fell slightly in both the Chamber and Senate. Once again, people behind the curtain (or in front of the voting machine) likely thought twice about their vote and chose to go with what they know best or think will be most useful in government (in both cases, either the PS or MR). The cdH could also have expected to do quite a bit better given pre-election polling, so they too will be disappointed. Given the overlap between the cdH (which is more of a Christian social-humanist party than a CD&V-type Christiandem outfit) and the PS – both are in government at the regional level – the disappointing result isn’t very surprising. The right-wing populist Popular Party (PP) managed to squeak out a seat in Walloon Brabant where it polled 5.04%, right above the threshold. The FN, running for the Chamber only in Hainaut, Namur and BHV unsurprisingly lost all its seats with only 2.8% in Hainaut and Namur and a paltry 0.4% in BHV. It did not run for Senate. The far-right’s vote, which, in Wallonia was traditionally anti-immigrant (like in most European countries), seems to have shifted to the regionalist side like in Flanders. Wallonie d’abord, a far-right regionalist party similar to Alsace d’abord (they even stole their logo, like the FN had stolen the French FN’s logo), polled a surprising 2.5%. Is this a protest vote or does it perhaps highlight a growing regionalist current south of the border? If it does, Belgium is really screwed. The old rattachistes (RWF) polled 1.6%, increasing its vote share slightly. The far-left PTB+ also did well, reaching 9% in the mining community of Herstal in Liège.
The question on everybody’s mouth is “when will Belgium break up?” Giving a serious answer to such a question is quite difficult and it’s a very hard question. The country of Belgium as we know it will most probably still exist on June 14, 2011. It could still exist by the time the next EU ballot comes around in 2014. But in ten or twenty years? Who knows. The answer partly depends on what government is formed and how this government deals with two pressing issue: BHV and ‘state reform’.
The options for coalitions are quite open and the N-VA isn’t necessarily a necessity for a government, even though excluding them would be a bad idea (bolded for a reason). The PS, the Walloon winners, have not showed much triumphalism in their victory and they say that they’ll open talks with the N-VA. Bart de Wever, who met Albert II earlier today, has also stretched out his hand to the Francophone community as a whole, and said that it would be a mistake for anybody to work independently and aloofly. The N-VA does seem committed to maintaining, for now, stability and peace in Belgium. The coalition options – based on seats in the Chamber (given that indirectly elected seats for the Senate have yet to be chosen) are given below (a majority is 76).
- ‘Regional coalition combo’ > CD&V/N-VA/Sp.a/PS/cdH/Ecolo: 105
- PS/N-VA/CD&V/Sp.a/cdH: 92
- ‘Double olive tree’ > PS/CD&V/Sp.a/cdH/Ecolo/Groen: 78
Under all of these options, the Walloon Socialist Elio di Rupo is favoured to be the next Prime Minister, as it is unlikely the PS or any Walloon party will accept having Bart de Wever on top, as it would be a hard sell for voters in the south. Such a coalition will most likely include the N-VA, given that the parties know that excluding the N-VA would likely result in further gains for the party while including it in government could both ‘tame’ the party and weaken its electoral appeal (as some of its voters would likely flow back to VB and other parties). However, a coalition with the PS and N-VA on top will likely be rather unstable and will have a hard time (as any government) solving the issues of BHV. Even though Vlaams Belang said it welcomed the N-VA as a partner for a progress on Flemish autonomy and independence, the VB will not be in government (obviously) and its radical program – it will propose a bill splitting BHV in two as soon as Parliament reconvenes – will be accepted by the N-VA. A coalition of good-will is likely to emerge, but it will be a coalition both of bickering and “small reforms” which won’t be good enough for Flemish nationalists.