Matthias De Clercq, grandson of former minister Willy De Clercq, will be the new mayor of Ghent, replacing long-standing mayor Daniel Termont, and heading a four-party coalition of his own Open VLD, Groen, socialists and one member of CD&V. However an examination of how that coalition was put together shows that De Clercq may have paid a heavy price within his own party in order to accommodate his partners.
De Clercq, party colleagues told De Standaard, has had ambitions to become mayor since the municipal election campaign, but the unlikelihood of a liberal Open VLD candidate leading the left-wing city – governed in recent years by a socialist-green coalition – led him to downplay the idea.
When his party followed the regional trend of gains for the liberals, De Clercq hitched his wagon to Filip Watteeuw of Groen in an attempt to make himself more palatable, but Watteeuw never had any ambition to be mayor, the paper reports.
De Clercq ultimately put together a coalition that appears to be all things to all men: only N-VA is missing from the ranks. In doing so, however, he has had to snub his own party. He will govern the city with ten aldermen, but only two of them will be Open VLD colleagues. The other parties in the cartel managed to extract the other eight jobs as their due for joining up, leaving rising VLD stars out in the cold for the next six years.
He also had to jettison some of the party’s electoral promises for the sake of harmony in his coalition, including a promise of more parking spaces in the city, and the dismantling of the knips – shortcuts enforced on drivers by the former council’s traffic plan, which have found no favour among the city’s motorists.
Meanwhile De Clercq has promised “a city that moves forward while looking back to ensure everyone is on board”.