If Bart de Wever becomes mayor of Antwerp, it will push the agenda of Flemish independence in Belgium.
As well as losing 60 kilograms on a crash diet and releasing a book about it, the leader of the rightwing New Flemish Alliance is standing in local elections on October 14 in the country’s largest municipality. Antwerp has 500,000 inhabitants and is the heart of the autonomous Flanders region.
Many people on the streets of Antwerp refused to tell us how they would be voting, but one man said: “Honestly I haven’t decided yet but I think the New Flemish Alliance have a chance to win. It could be time for someone else after years of socialism.”
There have been Socialist mayors for six decades and De Wever’s NVA party is saying it is time for change.
NVA candidate Rob Van de Velde outlined one of the party’s key aims: “We have to reduce insecurity and get young people back into work – these two things are linked. We are in the situation where a third of young people are unemployed.”
If successful, De Wever could become President of Flanders in two years’ time.
“The NVA and Bart de Wever have said that these elections are, for them, a step closer to the 2014 federal elections, where they can advance their ideas of Flemish independence,” Flemish political analyst Dave Sinardet told euronews.
Some polls show NVA support in Antwerp at 40 percent.
However, the numbers for the Socialist party are also strong and the election may not produce an outright winner, according to political analyst Jean Faniel.
“The first question is whether the NVA leader will be able to win, or if the current mayor Patrick Janssens will manage to keep his hands on Antwerp. It’s likely that neither of these two will win half of the seats, so a coalition will have to be formed,” he said.
Incumbent Patrick Janssens is extremely popular and his party’s campaign focuses on unity.
“Everyone in this city, with these 174 national, religious and other identities shares one thing – and that is the city itself,” said Socialist candidate Güler Turan.
NVA winning 28 percent in the general election in 2010 put De Wever in a strong political position and was also part of the reason no national government was able to be formed for more than 500 days.
De Wever eventually agreed to let French-speaking Socialist Elio Di Rupo become prime minister, but De Wever said he considers the Belgium government to be “illegitimate”.