Flemish far-right party Vlaams Belang has come under fire for replacing women who had won a seat at the weekend elections with male candidates lower down the party list.
Two candidates were among those elected – Patsy Vatlet for the European Parliament and Lut Deforche-Degroote to represent West Flanders in the Flemish parliament. Both women were in second place in their respective lists, in keeping with what is known as the zipper principle: where a party list is headed by a man, the second place must go to a woman.
However before any new legislature is even sworn in, the two women have announced they are giving up their seats, and will be replaced by men – Tom Vandendriessche (photo) for the European Parliament, and Immanuel De Reuse for the Flemish parliament.
As party spokesperson Gerolf Annemans explained to Belga, Vatlet is the party treasurer and cannot be missed in that role. In other words, her candidature was never genuine, and her place on the list was a mere pretence to fulfil the requirements of the zipper principle.
The other “dummy” candidate, Deforche-Degroote, who owns a cafe in Roeselare, is reported to have agreed to the masquerade from the beginning, holding the second place on the list in order to guarantee a seat for De Reuse. Speaking to De Standaard, he made no secret of the plan: “This was agreed in advance. Roeselare did well in the municipal elections, and nationally had the right to a seat. I’m the fraction leader, and I call the shots here in Roeselare.”
He explained that both he and Deforche-Degroote are concentrated on social policy, but that the party had been obliged to go looking for a woman for the second place on the list. “Lut was happy to do this for me,” he told the paper. And, asked if the voters had been aware of the listing of a dummy candidate, he replied, “I have no idea whether the voters were concerned about such things.”
Deforche-Degroote seemed less than delighted when interviewed by De Morgen. “I have mixed feeling, but okay, we’ll get over it,” she said. “I’m a woman of my word. Everyone knows that Immanuel is very ambitious. But a third place was uncertain, and a woman had to be in second place, so they brought me in and made him first substitute.”
In the Belgian system of voting for party lists, it is not unusual to put prominent party representatives on lists for bodies on which they have no intention of ever taking a seat, and the list includes a number of substitutes should such a person be elected and never sit, or in some cases be promoted to a ministerial post. The case of Vlaams Belang, however, is quite different, since it specifically concerns using a woman as a place-holder for a man.
“Of course I had not expected to be elected really,” she said. “But I will keep my promise, in the interests of the party.”
In the event, Vlaams Belang took five seats for the Flemish parliament in West Flanders.