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Local elections: Ghent’s 'monster coalition' and a stalemate in Antwerp
“A lack of public commitment to clean air and social housing just feeds the mistrust.” With those words, another day of post-election negotiations came to an end in Antwerp on Monday.
While some 90% of Flanders’ municipalities have formed coalitions and announced a mayor, the rest are still negotiating which parties will be in the majority, which in the opposition and who will be mayor come January.three of Flanders’ larger cities are in the spotlight when it comes to tough negotiations following the local elections of 14 October: Antwerp, Ghent and Ostend.
While there are obvious winners in all three cities, there are no absolute majorities, and there are many smaller parties keen to see a mayor appointed from their ranks.
In Antwerp, a surge of votes for Groen – mirroring the ecological party’s rise in popularity across the region and in Brussels – has led to the current stalemate. On election night, Antwerp Groen leader Wouter Van Besien stated matter-of-factly that his party would not form a coalition with N-VA.
While N-VA got 35% of the votes, it misses an absolute majority. With Groen getting 18% of the vote, followed by SP.A at 11.5% and the others will less than 9%, list leader and current mayor Bart De Wever is looking to Groen to form a new majority in Antwerp.
Despite his statements on election night, Van Besien has delivered some demands to the administration with a view to forming a coalition, including a car-free city centre and more social housing. While Groen insists that promises be made before it agrees to a coalition and a mayor, De Wever responded that there was no point in agreeing to legislation that would have to be voted on by the new city council in 2019.
In Ghent, meanwhile, the challenge is how much power will be retained by Groen and socialists SP.A, which formed a Groen-heavy cartel at the polls. While the cartel won the most votes, with 33.5%, it lost 12% on its 2012 results and its absolute majority.
Liberals Open Vld, meanwhile, gained nearly 9% this year to get more than 25% of the votes. On election night, list leader Mathias De Clercq announced that “the people of Ghent have obviously chosen a liberal mayor”.
The cartel has had to tread carefully to prevent Open Vld from trying to form a majority coalition with CD&V, which got nearly 9% of the votes. The parties announced last week that they were working on an SP.A/Groen, Open Vld and CD&V majority coalition, putting to rest speculation about whether the cartel would be shut out or whether Groen would dump SP.A and head into negotiations separately.
It’s a large coalition, with four parties involved and 40 of the available 53 seats, leading to the term “monster coalition” in the local press. Political analysts speculate that it’s unlikely to succeed.
“It’s probable that one party will still fall away, maybe even two,” Ghent University political scientist Carl Devos told Het Laatste Nieuws. “Four parties in the Ghent council is simply not sustainable. It’s just too many.”
In Ostend, meanwhile, the votes were close enough between the Stadslijst and Open Vld – with the Stadslijst losing more than 9% and Open Vld gaining more than 6% on 2012 – to make things tense.
A stadslijst, or city list, is generally a cartel between two parties or one party together with independent candidates. In Ostend, the Stadslijst is made up of socialists S.PA and independent candidates; the list leader is current mayor Johan Vande Lanotte.
Complicating the race to the mayor’s seat in the coastal city are the “preference votes”: While the Stadslijst got more votes than Open Vld – 23% compared to 20% – Open Vld’s list leader Bart Tommelein got more personal votes than the Stadslijst’s Vande Lanotte.
Both parties are now negotiating with Groen, which could hold the key to the new majority coalition. While Tommelein, Flanders’ current energy minister, would like to start talks with N-VA (the third-largest party in Ostend) and Groen, the latter refuses to enter a coalition with N-VA. Groen is therefore looking at joining forces with the Stadslijst to then enter negotiations with Open Vld, with an eye to pushing N-VA into opposition.
Photo: Mathias De Clercq of Open Vld and Mieke Van Hecke, the list leader for CD&V in Ghent ©James Arthur Gekiere/BELGA