Open Vld has a new chairman: Egbert Lachaert. The Merelbekenaar convincingly made it in one round. The chairmanship of the Flemish liberals now falls in completely different hands than the group around Gwendolyn Rutten.
In the news: He was the favorite, but now he can crown himself as successor to Gwendolyn Rutten (Open Vld).
The details: This puts an end to Rutten’s seven-year chairmanship.
- Lachaert fulfills an old dream: in 2012 he was already a candidate as a young man, and he then lost to the same Rutten. Now it is “second time, good time” for the group leader of Open Vld in the Chamber. Lachaert is also an extra leader for the liberals in densely populated East Flanders, where the Open Vld has traditionally been strongly electoral. Moreover, with 61 percent he achieves a convincing score, to start with a strong mandate.
- Graceful he also said goodbye to Gwendolyn Rutten, who he thanked extensively “for her fantastic performance all these years.” He also asked for applause for the fellow candidates, and announced that he wants to continue with the other candidates, “I will continue with everyone, not just my own supporters.”
- Challenger Bart Tommelein (Open Vld), the former Flemish minister and current mayor of Ostend, will now fold back on her duties in the queen of the seaside towns: he was also not elected to the party office, he was not a candidate. He called for “broad popular liberalism” and wished him every success.
- With Lachaert remains no animosity, both agreed in advance to respect each other’s victory and to remain loyal to the party. But his score is still less than he had hoped: immediately in the first round he bites the dust.
- Els Ampe (Open Vld), the third dog in the skittles game, is not exactly strengthened from the race. As a Flemish Member of Parliament, she obviously has a mandate to fall back on, but during the race she got more and more from the party race and her fellow MPs. 7 percent is not exactly much. Now threatens a bit of isolation.
The practical consequences: A few shifts at the top of Open Vld are imperative.
- For starters, there it is faction leadership in the House, which now falls open. So a new face can be expected there. It is more than likely that Vincent Van Quickenborne (Open Vld), the mayor of Kortrijk, who was an outspoken ally of Lachaert in the race.
- Not much will change for the federal government and the negotiations: Alexander De Croo, the Deputy Prime Minister of Open Vld, was already very much in favor of Lachaert. He will now conduct federal negotiations in tandem with the new chairman. He’s also the candidate to lead the Open Vld team again in that government.
- It is different for the Flemish government. Bart Somers (Open Vld) manifestly turned himself away from Lachaert, and pulled out all the stops to prevent him from becoming chairman. So it will be quite a task for Somers to now comply with his new chairman. Unless one decides to a reshuffle in that government.
The big picture: This moves the Open Vld to the right.
- Whether people like to acknowledge it or not, Lachaert’s profile is rather dark blue, with the accent on “back to the basis of liberalism”. It is essential for Lachaert to recapture credibility for the party. This is partly due to the firm defense of the core business: a smaller state and no new taxes in a country that already has particularly high rates of general appraisal.
- It has serious consequences for federal government formation: every puzzle that must now be laid for center-left coalitions, such as Vivaldi or purple-green, becomes very difficult.