Eight million Belgians are voting in local elections today which may mark a sea change in politics if there is an historic shift of power in second city Antwerp, and it is taken by a man who has never held elected office.
Bart de Wever leads the nationalist N-VA, and might use the capture of Antwerp, Europe’s second largest port, as a springboard for national power, and Flemish secession from Belgium.
Current Socialist Mayor Patrick Janssens is seen as successful; his ten years are the latest in 90 years of Socialist rule of Antwerp, only interrupted by nazi occupation.
While de Wever is the most popular politician in Flanders, some fear he would not be a good mayor of Antwerp as he would spend all his time on national politics.
Voting has been made more difficult by a rash of computer problems with the electronic voting machines. These have led to some polling stations failing to open on time and long queues outside that have lengthened as the day goes on.
“Finally I was able to vote after more then an hour waiting – I think it’s scandalous at our age to be waiting in the cold for so long. That’s not right,” said one elderly elector.
This vote will set the scene for the 2014 general election, which most Belgians already have decided will be crucial for the future of a united country.