Flanders heads to polls, with main parties polarized

by editor

Citizens of the Federal Republic of Flanders are heading to the polls, nine months after the last federal elections. At stake: the federal Presidency and the 50 seats in the Bondskamer (Union Chamber).

Incumbent President Mateo Mattiassen is vying for a second term, but is challenged by no fewer than four opponents: Erwin V.H., the popular governor of the Northern Benelukken; Andreas Fidelis, a firebrand politician from Ambetanterijk; former Secretary of State Wilhelm von Abering and Lorenzo de Grande Mande, leader of the newly formed Nationalist Royalist Alliance (N.R.A.). The Bondspresident (Union President) is elected via a full preferential voting system: each citizen has to rank all candidates by preference.

All five presidential candidates are also running in the parliamentary elections. The League for the Third Republic (L3R) of Erwin V.H. is currently the largest party in the Union Chamber, with 20 seats, followed by Mateo Mattiassen’s National Parties Federation (FNP) and Andreas Fidelis’ King, Faith, Federalism (KGF) with 11 seats each. Eight seats are taken by the Conservative Party, which is no longer on the ballot.

The Coalition for the People (CVHV) of von Abering and the N.R.A. are not yet represented in Parliament.

Main issue in the electoral campaign seems to be the relation between the federal level and the five regional governments. The FNP has positioned itself as the most federalist party; in article 1 of its 2016 manifesto titled Towards a Flanders that rivets, thrives, grows, the party lists the federal as the most important policy level in the Republic. According to the FNP, federal law should no longer offer regional governments an opt-out option, as was the case for the Local Government Act of 2015.

The L3R, on the other hand, wants to install an opt-out option for all (future) federal decisions, while abolishing the Statenraad (Council of Regions), where under the current bicameral parliamentary system each region has one representative and acts as a guardian of regional interests. The FNP has vowed to keep the Statenraad, and wants to see the federal government organize simultaneous elections to determine its representatives in each region. At the moment, it is up to those regions to determine how (and when) their Statenraad representative is appointed or elected.

The Nationalist Royalist Alliance wants to return to a unitary state and abolish the regional governments altogether, while the position of King, Faith, Federalism is ambiguous; the populist party has vowed to combat federal overreach in its stronghold Ambetanterijk, whilst advocating a strong federal government in the recent past.

With such antithetical positions, it is unclear which parties could form a stable government. A grand coalition of the League and FNP seems improbable, and both parties are wary of a coalition with King, Faith, Federalism. The most logical coalition partner seems to be the Coaliton for the People, as it lacks a clear ideological program.

The first results are expected in the early hours of September 9.