Antwerp says “no” to Lange Wapper
The people of Antwerp have voted against plans by the government to build a viaduct through a part of central Antwerp. In a referendum held on Sunday, 19 October, nearly 60% of the electorate voted No to the socalled BAM plan, under which the Antwerp ring would finally be completed by a tunnel under the Scheldt and a viaduct (known as the Lange Wapper). The plan was supported by just over 40% of the voters.
A shadow has hung over the vote since the referendum was announced, with the Flemish government (excluding socialist minister Ingrid Lieten) saying the result of the vote would not be legally binding. At the weekend, supporters of the BAM plan seemed to be rehearsing the arguments for a rejection of the will of the people.
BAM supporters argue that only 35% of eligible voters in Antwerp turned out to vote. In other words, only 21% of the voting population, or fewer than 75,000 people, had rejected the proposal. The other 79% had either voted Yes, or had declined to express a preference.
The No vote was unconvincing, Yes supporters said, because it represented a minority of the electorate. In addition, some argued, it was inappropriate for 135,000 Antwerp residents to decide on behalf of the six million Flemings directly affected, not to mention those indirectly affected.
Among those supporting the result was Annick De Ridder, an Antwerp council member and opposition Open-VLD member of the Flemish parliament, who was prominent in the Yes camp. “As a liberal, you can’t organise a popular vote and then ignore the result,” she said. “The ball is now in the Flemish government’s court.”
As Flanders Today went to press, the government had still not reacted to the result. Kris Peeters’ government is legally free to disregard the No vote, but the democratic pressure to accept the result could be hard to resist.