Political scientists on the return of Gwendolyn Rutten: “I have never seen this kind of cynicism before”

Political scientists on the return of Gwendolyn Rutten: “I have never seen this kind of cynicism before”
Political scientists on the return of Gwendolyn Rutten: “I have never seen this kind of cynicism before”

“The foundation of political credibility was shamelessly removed today,” political science professor Carl Devos (UGent) tweeted on X, shortly after the announcement of the news that Rutten will succeed Bart Somers as Flemish minister and deputy prime minister. The Open VLD press conference later in the evening, in which an emotional Rutten said he understood the criticism that her return smells of opportunism, did not soften Devos’ mood.

“I always defend politics against the criticism that all politicians are postal grabbers, but a story like this makes it very difficult for me. It may be unintentional, but Open VLD is being anti-political here. This looks like organized opportunism. From Bart Somers, to secure his majority in Mechelen. Van Rutten, who returns immediately after her announced retirement. And from Open VLD, which secures a lot of votes in Flemish Brabant.”

Rutten’s statement that she wants to “make an impact” is particularly unfortunate, according to Devos. “In doing so, she acknowledges that you only have an impact as a minister. That is sad for all those candidate Flemish Members of Parliament who we will soon have to elect – unlike the ministers – and who would like nothing more than to end up in that Parliament. What signal are you giving to the voter in this way?”

Still no innovation

Fellow political scientist Dave Sinardet (VUB) spontaneously had to participate in the series Dallas thinking when he heard that Rutten would still become minister. In that American soap, character Bobby Ewing returns from the dead. “What unexpected twists and storylines about bruised egos and ambitions will we see? In terms of content, I think Rutten is a good choice for this position, it is just as defensible a match as Paul Van Tigchelt in the Justice department. But she threw in the towel herself after she ignored that post,” says Sinardet. “That disappointment was understandable, but it gave the signal that she was only in the Flemish Parliament in the hope of becoming a minister. Her motivations are not inhuman, but it does not seem very believable. She seemed to realize that herself.”

Sinardet also notices that Rutten’s predecessor Bart Somers was not heard. “He resigned for two reasons: out of love for his city of Mechelen, but also to enable innovation within his party. Now there appears to be no innovation. As a result, there appears to be some noise on the line between Prime Minister Alexander De Croo and Somers. Open VLD still doesn’t seem like a well-oiled machine. Even within the so-called ‘G4’ of the party – De Croo, Somers, Vincent Van Quickenborne and chairman Tom Ongena – there is apparently no clear entente.”

Gift for the extremes

“You hear the traditional parties say that we must fight against the extremes. Well, I think those extremes have been given a gift today,” Devos adds. “I’m here to take responsibility Rutten defended himself. Perhaps Bart Somers should have taken that responsibility by staying on.”

Both professors see how ministerial positions seem to be used for political career planning. That is not prohibited, and it certainly does not only happen within Open VLD. But, says Devos: “I have never seen the cynicism with which it is happening now.”


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