Elections 2024: The key players in DéFI

In the run-up to the June elections, Belgium's political figureheads are gearing up to compete for votes. Today we look at the French-speaking party DéFI and its leaders François De Smet and Bernard Clerfayt.

The party DéFI or Défi, which means 'challenge' in French, is a centrist party that focuses mainly on Brussels. It offers a blend of liberal economics and progressive social policies, all while putting secularism at the centre of its programme. It was originally founded in the 1960s as the Democratic Front of Francophones (FDF) by French-speaking opponents of Belgium's then-recent establishment of linguistic boundaries, which they thought would heavily impact French speakers in the capital.

DéFI is not scoring well in the polls for the upcoming election. According to the last predictions, it would only obtain 7.2% of the votes in Brussels and 4.3% in Wallonia. Apart from the loss of votes, the party has also lost quite a number of politicians to the liberal party MR. One of its main problems is that the safeguarding of the rights of French speakers in Brussels and the bordering municipalities, the unique selling point of the party, is not such a major issue for young voters in Brussels.

But the party is also suffering from tensions within the party leadership, which in the last months culminated in an open conflict between former president Olivier Maingain and his successor François De Smet.

Maingain was the party’s leader for almost a quarter of a century. In 2019, health reasons forced him to slow down and focus on local politics – as mayor of Sint-Lambrechts-Woluwe in Brussels.

The philosopher De Smet, who had been director of the federal migration centre Myria, took over as party president. Maingain seemed to have accepted his role but this spring, he started a conflict with De Smet by accusing his chief of cabinet of cheating in the counting of votes for the electoral list for the Brussels parliament. Some analysts think this might be part of a strategy to boost the career of his son Fabian, who is an alderman in the city of Brussels.

While president De Smet heads DéFI’s Brussels federal list, Bernard Clerfayt leads the party’s list for the Brussels parliament. Clerfayt was challenged by Fabian Maingain, but Maingain had to be satisfied with the third place. As current minister in the government of the Brussels-Capital Region, Clerfayt was responsible for employment and vocational training, digital transition, local authorities, and animal welfare.

Concerning animal welfare, Clerfayt suffered a major defeat as no majority was found for a ban on slaughter without stunning and now this issue also blocked the adoption of the long-awaited animal welfare code. He did however introduce measures such as a ban on the use of horses for carousels, markets and other events. He also led the creation of a list of reptiles that can be kept as pets.

DéFI president François De Smet and Brussels region minister Bernard Clerfayt ​ © BELGA PHOTO NICOLAS MAETERLINCK


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