Who’s my mayor? What we know already


Flanders gets its first mayor with foreign roots, while Mechelen re-elects the 'world's best mayor', Bart Somers

‘Most beautiful moment of my life’

While most municipal politicians in Flanders are gathering around tables today to negotiate who will have what position on the city council and – most crucially – who is going to be the mayor, some cities already know.

Following yesterday’s municipal elections, some politicians announced within a few hours who would be leading their city as mayor come January. The decision is sometimes made ahead of time, based on expected results and only interrupted if there is an upset.

That was not the case in Leuven, where it was announced that 39-year-old Mohamed Ridouani of socialist party SP.A will lead city hall starting in January. Following the long-time success of socialist mayor Louis Tobback, Ridouani will be Flanders’ first mayor with foreign roots.

“This is the result I had hoped for,” said Tobback, who has been mayor of the university town for more than 20 years. “I have always very much believed in Mo but had to wait to see if Leuven residents were ready for a mayor with a foreign background. Now he has more individual votes that I do. Wonderful.”

Voters in Belgium can simply vote for a party on their ballots, or they can vote for a specific person within the party. Ridouani, whose parents come from Morocco, earned the most individual votes in Leuven, with more than 10,000 compared to 7,200 for Lorin Parys of N-VA.

‘World’s best mayor’ re-elected in Mechelen

“This is the most beautiful moment in my entire life,” said Ridouani (pictured above), who was born and raised in Leuven. “If this city can elect someone with my background as mayor, it’s a very strong signal. I have never made a point of my identity, but this is a sign of hope. Regardless of your background, you can achieve your dreams, and I’m very proud of that. The city can sleep well tonight; Leuven is in good hands.”

Ridouani says he plans to form a “progressive” coalition of red, green and orange, or socialists SP.A, eco party Groen and Christian-democrats CD&V.

The situation was similar in Mechelen, where current mayor Bart Somers’ party, Open Vld, entered the ticket in a cartel with Groen and M+, a group of independents, as it did six years ago in the last local elections. With nearly 48% of the votes that have been counted so far, the cartel has an absolute majority and announced that Somers would continue as mayor for the next six years.

Somers, 54, was born and raised in Mechelen and has been its mayor since 2001. Last year he made international headlines for winning the World Mayor Prize.

I have seen that the vision is there, and that we want the same future for the city

- Hans Similon of Open VLD in Hasselt

Limburg capital Hasselt, meanwhile, has announced that its next mayor will be Steven Vandeput of nationalist party N-VA. Vandeput is currently Belgium’s minister of defence, a post he will give up to run Hasselt.

Hasselt’s city council went through turmoil a couple of years ago, when SP.A mayor Hilde Claes had to resign based on allegations of misuse of city-owned infrastructure and conflicts of interest. Nadja Vananroye of CD&V took over the post.

Vandeput (pictured below), 51, is shutting CD&V out of the new coalition, however, announcing that he would form the majority with the SP.A/Groen cartel and Open VLD. While SP.A/Groen got the second highest number of votes in the city, Open VLD was fourth behind CD&V.

Work to do in Antwerp and Ghent

“This city is missing a clear vision,” said Hans Similon of Open VLD about the situation in the Limburg capital. “It’s crucial that we lead the city in the direction we all want to go in.” In negotiations with SP.A and N-VA, he said, “I have seen that the vision is there, and that we want the same future for the city. We came to an agreement very quickly.”

That much cannot be said for Flanders’ biggest cities, Antwerp and Ghent, both of which are going to struggle with forming a coalition and choosing a mayor in the days (or weeks) to come. While N-VA got the most votes in Antwerp, with 35%, and the SP.A/Groen cartel got the most in Ghent, with about 34%, neither is an absolute majority. Both parties must now negotiate to see if they can hang on to city hall.

Other mayors already announced include Hans Bonte (SP.A) in Vilvoorde, the current mayor of the city; Christoph D’Haese (N-VA) in Aalst, the current mayor of the city; and Dirk De Fauw (CD&V) in Bruges, who will replace current mayor Renaat Landuyt (SP.A).

Vincent Van Quickenborne (Open Vld) is likely to remain mayor in Kortrijk, while state secretary of migration Theo Francken (N-VA) will become “mayor in title” of Lubbeek, his home town. While he is at the top of his party’s list in the Flemish Brabant town, he will appoint someone from the city council to oversee his mayoral duties in order to remain in his federal post.

Check Flanders Today for more election coverage this week

Photos: Mohamed Ridouani (top) will lead Leuven as Flanders’ first mayor of foreign descent ©courtesy VRT; Steven Vandeput will give up his federal defence minister post to lead the city of Hasselt ©Yorick Jansens/BELGA