Belgium’s Socialists have struck a blow to Europe’s most successful far-right political party. They ousted Vlaams Belang from its position as the biggest party in Antwerp, the country’s second city. The anti-immigration movement could only manage second place in Sunday’s local elections, after being overtaken in the polls in Antwerp for the first time in years.
Socialist Patrick Janssens was already mayor of Antwerp, as an alliance of mainstream parties had succeeded in keeping Vlaams Belang out of office. But, despite being beaten there, the extreme right- wingers did pick up votes in many towns and districts across Flanders, the Dutch-speaking north of the country for which they seek independence.
As for Antwerp, Vlaams Belang’s Filip Dewinter has no doubt as to why he was beaten in his bid to become mayor.
“It is the tidal wave of votes from immigrants, who, for the first time, have had the opportunity to vote,” he said.
“This right to vote for immigrants has meant tens of thousands have been able to do so in Antwerp and they have voted for the left and not for Vlaams Belang, that is clear.”
About a quarter of Antwerp’s residents are foreign or of foreign extraction, the majority being of North African or Turkish origin.
The big losers in the local elections were Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt’s Liberals, with support draining away across Flanders, nine months before a scheduled general election.