BELGIAN LOCAL ELECTIONS -- FAR RIGHT STUMBLES, COALITION PARTNERS FARE POORLY

Identifier: 
06BRUSSELS3447

UNCLAS BRUSSELS 003447

SIPDIS

SIPDIS
SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV, BE
SUBJECT: BELGIAN LOCAL ELECTIONS -- FAR RIGHT STUMBLES,
COALITION PARTNERS FARE POORLY

REF: BRUSSELS 3382

1. (U) In elections for almost 600 communal and provincial
council elections on October 8, the Flemish Liberal party
(senior member of the governing four-party coalition) fared
badly, as did its Francophone Liberal partner. Leaders of
the Flemish Liberals have ascribed their poor showing on
infighting, and anti-establishment sentiments in the public.
They hope good economic news and the Prime Minister's talents
on the hustings can help turn a dire situation around. The
Socialists lost seats in some of their traditional bastions
in the French-speaking part of the country, but feel
confident they will be part of a coalition come federal
elections next year. Christian Democrats had the most reason
to smile. In Flanders and, to a lesser degree, in the French
areas, Christian Democrats won back much of the ground that
this traditionally dominant party lost in the 2000 local
polls.

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Has Vlaams Belang Peaked?
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2. (SBU) The far right Vlaams Belang (VB) captured seats in a
number of communes beyond its traditional heartland in and
around Antwerp, but failed to achieve a hoped for
breakthrough in larger cities, most notably Antwerp, where
the current mayor gained a plurality. VB lost council seats
in Ghent, suggesting to some observers that the far right
wave had crested. A VB parliamentarian with whom we maintain
discreet contact told poloff the party's leadership was
extremely disappointed with its lack of success in the big
cities, which he blamed variously on immigrant voters
concentrated in these areas, and lackluster candidates and
internal disorganization. Although our contact claimed VB
had done well in the local elections, it was worried about
"stagnation" and would review its strategy to determine "what
happened in the major cities." The party hoped to do better
next spring in the federal polls, aiming to get 25-30% of the
vote.

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Immigrants and Women Succeed
----------------------------

3. (U) Immigrants and women scored noteworthy gains.
One-third of the newly-elected councilors are women, and the
number of Belgians of immigrant descent (primarily of
Moroccan and Turkish-origin) increased significantly. In the
fifteen biggest Flemish cities, the number of foreign origin
councilors more than doubled from sixteen to 40. In the
Brussels communes, the increase was even more striking: from
fourteen elected officials in 1994 (mainly of Arab origin),
to 91 in 2000, and 145 in
2006, with representatives of Moroccan, Turkish, and
Congolese origin, among others. With two exceptions, each of
the nineteen Brussels communes now has at least one elected
official of foreign origin. The gains were less spectacular,
but still notable in the French-speaking region.

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Comment: Liberals Out, Leterme In?
----------------------------------

4. (SBU) Most analysts agreed the local elections gave the
Christian Democrats momentum for next year's federal polls.
While the local success of key Flemish Liberal Ministers
offered the Liberals energy and hope for 2007, the Liberals
are still in a deep hole, particularly on the economic front.
The Flemish Socialists have warned their Liberal coalition
partners to "straighten up," i.e., knock off the internal
fighting, and get some successes to flaunt in 2007, starting
with a sound budget, otherwise, according to a Flemish
Socialist party official, "it will be the end of the purple
coalition, and you might have the Christian Democrats and the
Socialists in a coalition."

5. (SBU) Noting the gains made by the Christian Democrats,
several commentators have pointed to Flemish CD&V leader
Leterme as a, if not the, leading candidate for Prime
Minister in 2007. On the other hand, the smart money here
believes it is too soon to tell if he actually wants the job.
It remains to be see if Leterme can balance the demands of
an alliance with the decidedly pro-Belgian state French
Socialists on one side, and the Flemish nationalists in his
own camp. Leterme's approach to constitutional reform talks
early next year should give a good indication of his interest
in the top job. If he wants the job, he is unlikely to strip
the federal government of too much power. Korologos

.