Yesterday, apart from the European elections, Belgium also held elections for the regional parliaments in Flanders, the Dutch-speaking northern half of the country, and Wallonia, the French-speaking southern half.
These elections highlighted the fact that Flanders and Wallonia are two different nations. While the left won in Wallonia, it was crushed in Flanders.
In the Walloon Parliament (75 seats) the leftist green party Ecolo won 14 seats (+11), the Parti Socialiste (PS) remained the biggest with 30 seats (-4), the liberal-conservative Mouvement Reformateur received 18 seats (-2), the centrist christian-democrat CDH won 13 seats (-1) and the Front National lost its 4 seats. The greatest surprise was that the PS was only marginally affected by the tsunami of corruption and other scandals (even one involving child pornography) in which it has been entangled.
In the Flemish Parliament (124 seats), however, the picture is entirely different. The Socialists dropped to 19 seats (-6), the leftist Liberals to 21 seats (-4). The biggest party are the Christian-Democrats with 31 seats (-4). The Greens won 7 seats (+1). The Flemish-nationalist Vlaams Belang (VB), which advocates the independence of Flanders dropped to 21 seats (-11), but two other parties, also explicitly in favour of Flemish independence, made a major break-through: the New Flemish Alliance (N-VA), which won 16 seats (+16), and the liberal-conservative LDD party, which won 8 seats (+8).
As the three parties that favour Flemish secession from Belgium gained 45 seats, it will be very difficult to form a Flemish government without at least one of them. Combined the pro-secessionist parties have obtained more than 36% of the Flemish vote, while many Christian-Democrats also want larger Flemish autonomy and propose transforming Belgium from a federal into a confederal state.
The VB, meanwhile, feels it has been unfairly treated during the election campaign. The mainstream media, which all receive government subsidies, refused to run VB adds and hardly devoted any attention to Belgium’s main opposition party. In the past, parties were assigned broadcasting time to run a short informative television spot of their own on the state television channel. These programs, too, were abolished for this year’s campaign. A journalist openly admitted: “In these broadcasts, Filip Dewinter could openly express his political views. This was sufficient reason to ban these broadcasts.”
Especially during the election campaign the Belgian media devoted as little attention as they could to the VB. Last April, Prof. Bart Maddens of Leuven University published figures about the 2007 election campaign period. He calculated how many times the newspapers mentioned the candidates of the major parties and found that an average Socialist candidate was mentioned 25 times, a Liberal 23 times, a Christian-Democrat 22 times, a Green candidate 7.2 times and a VB candidate 6.9 times.
Though the VB represented almost a quarter of the Flemings in the previous parliament, its politicians received only 7.3% of the attention of the papers during the campaign. Prof. Maddens said the VB was the victim of a “cordon médiatique” (a deliberate media exclusion). He concluded that “the competitive disadvantage” resulting from the media boycott of the VB “should not be underestimated.”
While the situation in the written press is bad, it is even worse on radio and television. The Belgian state television VRT is set on damaging the right and promoting the left. Recent official government figures confirmed that VB received only 1.5% of the television time devoted to politicians in 2006-07, despite its 24.3% of the votes in the 2004 elections. By comparison, the Socialist politicians received 43.8% of the media’s political time, despite their 19.9% of the votes.