Anti-Immigration Party Likely To Get More Seats In Belgian Civic Polls

Anti-immigration party likely to get more seats in Belgian civic polls
Web posted at: 10/6/2006 8:29:31
Source ::: REUTERS

BRUSSELS Anti-immigration party Vlaams Belang is expected to increase its already large share of the vote in Belgian local elections on Sunday and could take control of some towns or districts for the first time.

Such a victory would follow a string of far-right successes across Europe as voters become increasingly concerned about immigration. At the weekend, Austrias Freedom Party finished third in a national election with 11.2 per cent of the vote.

The right-wing nationalist Flemish Interest party, which seeks independence for the Dutch-speaking region of Flanders, made headlines in 2000 when its predecessor Vlaams Blok won a third of the vote in Antwerp, Belgiums second largest city.

Political analysts believe six more years of opposition will have done nothing to blunt the right-wings potential, particularly because they have put up more candidates.

They will do massively better than in 2000, said Cas Mudde, expert on political extremism at Antwerp University. Opinion polls forecast that 34 to 39 per cent of voters in Antwerp, the partys stronghold, will back Vlaams Belang.

The party wants to stop immigration and urges newcomers to Flanders to learn Dutch, accept Western values or return to their countries of origin. About a quarter of the Antwerps 460,000 residents are foreign or of foreign extraction, the majority being of North African or Turkish origin.

The party wants to end recognition of Islam as a religion, arguing it is not European and does not respect Western norms.

An alliance of mainstream parties, dubbed the cordon sanitaire, has held Antwerp since 1994 to keep the Vlaams Belang from office and analysts expect this to continue, with Socialist mayor Patrick Janssens staying in office.

However, the Vlaams Belang could take hold of up to three city districts or a small community outside the city.

Concerts for tolerance in four cities last Sunday drew almost 100,000 people into the streets in a show of defiance against the far-right, but analysts believe the event will simply have further polarised society.