Not a single local Open VLD branch in South West Flanders will go to the upcoming municipal elections under the Open VLD flag. In the thirteen SW Flemish municipalities, almost half with a ‘blue’ mayor at the helm, they will resolutely opt for a local brand in 2024. “It is proof that the party is in bad shape,” says political scientist Nicolas Bouteca at Ghent University. “On the other hand, it is an evolution that has been going on for some time. Classical parties are having a hard time anyway, local lists are popular. But the general malaise at the Open VLD reinforces the desire for a local brand.”
In the past, Open VLD, like other traditional parties, did not appear in every municipality under its own name, but under a local brand with a much broader list. In Zwevegem, Kortrijk, Spiere-Helkijn, Avelgem and Anzegem, this resulted in the mayor’s sash for the Liberals in 2018. On the other hand, Open VLD won in 2018, whether or not in a cartel with other parties, in Menen, Wervik, Deerlijk, Harelbeke, Kuurne and Wevelgem. A survey in the thirteen municipalities shows that no one really plans to do this in 2024.
“Open VLD is no longer a sexy brand,” says Bert Schelfhout of Open VLD-Deerlijk. In 2018, Schelfhout scored well with the Open VLD in Deerlijk. It was decided to drop the name before 2024. “I hear that local departments no longer want to be judged on the basis of national politics. On the other hand, there is the adjustment of the electoral legislation, which means that you have to be the largest party to form a coalition and the mayor. There are two causes that ensure that Open VLD is no longer used.”
Party in transition
Vincent Van Quickenborne, one of the main players in the Open VLD saga of the past year and the malaise she finds herself in these days, is not really surprised. “In 2018, I went to voters in Kortrijk with Team Mayor. I have been saying for some time that a local brand is stronger than the traditional party name, especially if you attach that brand to a strong mayoral candidate,” says the current mayor of Kortrijk. “I think it is exaggerated that the events at national level are the reason for dropping the Open VLD flag. Our party is in transition, no one will deny that. But after the elections we will rebuild the party in peace.”
Nicolas Bouteca notices that many local authorities no longer attach added value to the name Open VLD. “Other traditional parties also have to deal with it, but Open VLD would disappear in South-West Flemish municipal politics. The malaise that the party leadership is currently in has certainly not helped this.”