Public scandals dent trust in Belgian politics, reveals study

Public scandals dent trust in Belgian politics, reveals study
Credit: Belga / Dirk Waem

A study conducted by four academics from various universities shows that public scandals will affect Belgians’ trust in their politicians, La Libre reports. 

Researchers sent questionnaires to 4,000 voters at the exit polls of the 2018 municipal elections. At that time, the Publifin corruption scandal was weighing heavy on electors’ minds, as several Walloon officials were suspected of receiving illegal funds through the public energy distributor.

The researchers and La Libre found it worthwhile to look back at the study’s findings given the recent rise of political scandals that have beset the country. Just last year, the Walloon Parliament was forced to address allegations of bullying as well as the misuse of public funds for lavish trips. Meanwhile, Qatargate laid bare the potential corruption of Belgium’s European quarters. 

According to Caroline Close, an academic at the ULB’s Cevipol, their study aimed to identify which politicians and parties suffered the most electorally from these scandals. “While the level of trust in the mayors and councillors of the municipalities affected by the scandals was lower, this did not extend to other levels of power,” she told La Libre. 

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For Close, this shows that “citizens can identify who is responsible” for these scandals, with electors laying the blame at the doors of traditional parties which, in turn, benefits the unaffected parties in opposition. This has also been reflected by the success of the far-left Worker’s Party of Belgium (PTB/PVDA) and the Flemish far-right Vlaams Belang in recent polling, both of whom have never been in power.

In any case, the study’s authors have reminded politicians of the need to uphold ethical standards to “limit the emergence of a feeling of mistrust towards the political class.” And while they claim that this is not inevitable, Belgians already seem to be wary, with a recent poll showing that a slight majority of the country's citizens would prefer an authoritarian rule to the current democratic model.

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