Breakthrough for Workers’ Party of Belgium in local elections

In Belgium’s municipal and provincial elections held on 14 October 2012, the Workers’ Party of Belgium (PTB) made a strong showing and affirmed itself as an emerging Left force in the whole country. The PTB’s electoral list “PTB+” obtained a total of 31 municipal councillors, 17 district councillors (in the city districts of Antwerp) and 4 provincial councillors, for a total of 52 local seats in 12 municipalities, 7 city districts and 2 provinces. Previously, the PTB’s total number of local seats stood at 15, in just 8 municipalities.

The party’s objective was to maintain the existing 15 seats, and to obtain a first seat ever in three major cities: Antwerp, Liège and Brussels (in the municipality of Molenbeek). But based on a dynamic grassroots campaign, focusing on social issues – housing, health care, cleanliness, mobility, education, jobs, taxes – voters gave the PTB much more than it had hoped for.

Party chairman Peter Mertens will be accompanied by three more PTB councillors in the city council of Antwerp, with a score of 8%, while the PTB also gets 17 seats in the various Antwerp district councils.  In Liège,  the party obtained two seats on the city council (one of them for Party spokesman Raoul Hedebouw, with a score of 6.5%, while in Seraing and Herstal, industrial municipalities surrounding Liège, the PTB obtained 5 and 4 seats (both 14%), making it the second biggest party. In Seraing, a member of the Communist Party of Wallonia-Brussels got elected on the PTB+ list. In Brussels, not only has a first seat ever for the PTB been won in Molenbeek, but also a second one in the municipality of Schaerbeek.

The party was able to maintain its seat in the city of La Louvière, and also maintains its 6 councillors (with 22% of the vote, becoming the second biggest party) in the industrial municipality of Zelzate, near Gent. In Genk, the party tripled its number of seats from 1 to 3 (with 8.8% of the vote). Also unexpectedly, a first seat has been won in Charleroi, Mons and Flémalle.  In St Nicolas (Liège) and St Gilles (Brussels) the PTB+ got more than 3% of the vote, while in several cities (Gent, Mechelen, Leuven and Namur) its score was close to 3%. In Liège, PTB spokesman Raoul Hedebouw said that “we have felt, among the population, the need for a genuine party of the Left, in words and in deeds”. And at the victory party in Antwerp the Party chairman Peter Mertens said: “Finally, there will be a party in Antwerp that will wage a social opposition, a strong opposition facing the future mayor Bart De Wever”, who made huge inroads in Antwerp and elsewhere with his rightist Flemish nationalist party NVA. “We now have to transform our election victory into a strong organization that can put pressure from the bottom up. Our challenge now is to build a Left alternative and wage a militant opposition”.

Bart De Wever wants to use the progress of his party to advance his plan to split up Belgium after the federal, regional and European elections of 2014. The current federal government, led by social-democrat Elio Di Rupo, will pursue and intensify its policy of harsh austerity measures. In order to counter both dangers as firmly as possible, a strong social opposition from the Left will be necessary, from the local up to the national level.

The Workers’ Party of Belgium (PTB) aims to work closely with trade unions and other social movements to take up this challenge, keeping true to its slogan of People, not profit.

Department of International Relations, Workers’ Party of Belgium, 15 0ctober 2012.

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