Elections 2024: Prime minister Alexander De Croo could not save Flemish liberals

As Belgium swings to the right, the Flemish liberals have become the biggest losers of Sunday’s elections. Prime minister Alexander De Croo could not right the ship, and major reforms will be needed if the party wants to resurface in the next elections. 

The Flemish Liberals took the biggest hits on 9 June, with serious losses at both Flemish and federal levels - seven and five seats respectively. With De Croo, who has been at the helm of the centre-left federal government governing Belgium since October 2020, Open VLD thought it would be able to convince voters. Instead, it has been punished. 

The disastrous results already pushed party leader Tom Ongena to announce that the party will move to the opposition at all levels of government and that the entire party leadership will resign. A new leader is expected to be introduced by the end of the summer.

Former liberal stronghold

It is clear that De Croo is, at least partly, behind the losses. During the election campaign, the party’s focus was on the prime minister and the policies he carried out during his term, from responsible crisis management to intensifying European relations. Open VLD was rather comfortable ahead of election day: double-digit results were aimed for and De Croo once again was a candidate to be the new PM.

Instead of trailing behind the nationalist and far-right parties in Flanders with solid election results, as predicted in the polls, the party took serious losses across the country. Not in the least in De Croo’s own constituency of East Flanders, traditionally a liberal stronghold but now taken over by N-VA and Vlaams Belang. 

Later analysis will show where it went wrong, but what is already clear is that De Croo lost his party's credibility in the Vivaldi government. Among other things, the derailed budget, the lack of reforms, a too-late turn to the right and too little focus on liberal socio-economic policies may have antagonised the regular constituency.

Radical renewal

De Croo and his allies must now find a way to pull the party out of the doldrums, through thorough reforms. The resignations at the top of the party are therefore a logical choice. According to Ongena, the liberals must reinvent themselves. "We have the talent in our party to rebuild in the coming years," he said. "That is absolutely the ambition."

A radical renewal is also what the party's youth wing, Jong VLD, is calling for. It wants a timeline drawn up as early as Monday for leader and party executive elections to restore trust between the party and its voters as soon as possible.

It says it is time to reinvent the party as one that places liberal beliefs above government participation, party militancy above clans and principles above careers. "In short: a consistent liberal party that wins back voter confidence step by step.”

De Croo has already said on X that King Philippe has accepted his resignation on Monday. The current government will prepare the transition to a new team while he will remain caretaker prime minister until a new coalition is formed.


King Philippe and prime minister Alexander De Croo discuss the results of Sunday's elections © BELGA PHOTO ERIC LALMAND

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