Open VLD chooses new leader


Egbert Lachaert succeeds Gwendolyn Rutten as chair of the Flemish liberal party

‘A new chapter’

Flemish liberal party Open VLD has elected its new leader – lawyer Egbert Lachaert. He took more than 60% of the votes in the first round of elections to succeed Gwendolyn Rutten.

In total, 16,129 of the party’s 55,000 members voted this week, with 9,781 choosing Lachaert. Bart Tommelein was in second place with half that many votes, followed by Els Ampe with 7% and Stefaan Nuytten with 2%.

“We are closing a chapter of our liberal party and opening a new one,” Lachaert said after Friday’s result was announced. “Liberalism must be a broad movement that appeals to broad sections of the population.” He plans to hold a number of conferences in autumn to focus on the structure and content of the party and hinted at a possible name change.

'Dream scenario'

“This is a dream scenario,” the 42-year-old from Ghent told VTM. He previously stood against Rutten in 2012, when she was first elected leader. Though he was the favourite this time, he had not been expected to beat Tommelein so convincingly in the first round, and Lachaert himself had indicated that he expected a second round of voting. As he won more than 50% of the vote, however, he was declared the winner.

“The members have decided, democracy has clearly spoken,” said Tommelein, who is also mayor of Ostend. “I hope, Egbert, that you also look at the proposals your rivals have made. And that you ensure we have broad, popular liberalism, which offers as many answers as possible to the challenges people are facing.”

“The members have clearly spoken for Egbert Lachaert,” Ampe told Radio 2. “I think it is good that it was decided in one round and that the result is clear. Members have opted for classic liberalism and that is a good thing ... I wish him every success in making our party great again.”

The election period was originally intended to begin on Monday, but was delayed due to a technical problem with the online voting system. Former party leader Alexander De Croo – currently deputy prime minister and federal finance minister – will be vice-chair. Lachaert will now join negotiations to form a new federal government.

Photo: L-R Bart Tommelein, Gwendolyn Rutten, Egbert Lachaert

(c) Belga/Thierry Roge