The membership of the Flemish nationalist party N-VA has elected two moderates as the party’s new vice-presidents under Bart De Wever.
For the next three years, De Wever will be supported by Valerie Van Peel from Antwerp and Lorin Parys from Leuven. Parys is serving a second term, while Van Peel is new to the job, replacing Cieltje Van Achter from Brussels.
The election took place online, with some 200 members of the party council voting. The election is seen as important in that it gives the holders of the post a distinct advantage in the race for the succession when – one should perhaps say if – Bart De Wever steps down as president.
For that reason, it’s notable that the party machine failed to get behind Theo Francken, the former secretary of state for asylum and migration whose hard line in those areas endeared him to the party grass roots.
Francken, who must be reckoned to still have a good chance in any presidential race, congratulated his party colleagues in a short and sporting message on Twitter: “Congratulations, Valerie and Lorin, success with this important function.”
Van Peel has a background in the media, as a producer for VTM, a reporter for Het Nieuwsblad and a political editor for Dag Allemaal. She came into N-VA via a press backdoor, as party spokesperson, before representing the party on the board of the VRT, sitting on the local council in Kappelen and finally entering parliament in 2014.
She is the sister of the Flemish comedian Michael Van Peel.
Lorin Parys, meanwhile, is a former lawyer and MBA who first showed up on the political scene as spokesperson for the former Open VLD minister Patricia Ceysens. He became even more prominent as the media face of the contested shopping and leisure complex Uplace, and chief operating office of Club Brugge football club.
He made the switch from Open VLD to N-VA in 2013, and was elected the following year to the Flemish parliament. He was returned in 2019 with double his score of personal preference votes, and became secretary of the party council.
The election is being seen as a swing to the centre by the party management, while Francken is still under the cloud of a scandal involving humanitarian visas that took place while he was minister. Francken had left office by the time the scandal came to light, but has since admitted he would have been forced to resign if he had still been in place.