|Series Title||European Voice|
|Series Details||11/01/96, Volume 2, Number 02|
WHO will succeed Gérard Deprez, the president of the Parti Social-Chrétien?
The francophone Social- Christian Party which, despite its modest size (it is supported by just one-fifth of the francophone electorate), has been part of nearly all ruling coalitions in Belgium since the war. It counts among its luminaries Deputy Prime Minister Philippe Maystadt, Defence Minister Jean-Pol Poncelet and House Speaker Raymond Langendries.
This question has added some bubbles to the champagne of the chattering classes during an otherwise very quiet “trêve des confiseurs”.
Indeed, the change of guard in a political party is never a trifle in Belgium. The country, used to coalition governments, has often been described as a model of “particratie”, with a government subject to the whims of party bosses and a spoils system which allocates ministries, embassies, quangos, and even high-level appointments in the state-funded radio and TV system, according to a highly-sophisticated system of political quotas.
Gérard Deprez has been in this game for some 15 years, pressing the flesh at innumerable meetings, negotiating through the night with other party presidents, preparing changes of coalitions and fielding countless media interviews. Gérard Deprez's wish to throw in the towel is not really a surprise, but the style of his sortie is definitely unconventional.
In mid-December, while addressing the congress of “refondation” of the party, an exercise meant to adapt the PSC to the new environment, he strongly endorsed as his successor a young lawyer and senator Joëlle Milquet, who had been in charge of steering the party through its 50th anniversary celebrations.
In a party which prides itself on its democratic rules - the chairperson is elected in a secret ballot by all card-carrying members - Deprez was bound to stir up some controversy. And stir it up he did.
Like most Christian democratic parties, the PSC is a catch-all party made up of various interests and currents. Its electorate is a mix of professionals, farmers, shopkeepers, teachers and even some industrial workers.
Although it places itself squarely in the middle of the political spectrum, it has invariably been torn between a traditionalist right wing, a bulky centre and a tiny left linked to the Christian trade union (CSC) and the powerful health insurance bodies, Mutualités chrétiennes.
For many years, the tensions between the party's now defunct right-wing body CEPIC - which dangerously flirted with the extreme right - and the
“démo-chrétiens”, closer to the social wing and to the unions, made any party presidency a high-risk exercise.
This tension, however, was also used as a major political argument: to their adversaries, who chided them for their “inconsistencies”, the Social Christians retorted that in a country based on consensus-building, they were the ideal party, since when they reached a decision, they had already reconciled “left and right”.
The francophone Social-Christians have also had to manage their relationship with their sister party in the
Dutch-speaking community, the powerful CVP of Premier Jean-Luc Dehaene. Long accused by Walloon socialists and Francophone Bruxellois of being too soft on the CVP, the PSC appears now to have established its francophone loyalty.
Last December, while both Dutch and French-speaking socialist parties met together to discuss the social security issue, the PSC and the CVP - who were born together and later split into two separate parties - were not even able to celebrate their 50th anniversary together.
The stakes are high for the PSC in this succession battle, because the winner will have to take the helm during the redefinition of the party's principles.
Milquet is what they call in PSC circles “une sans famille”, meaning that she is not linked to a particular wing of the party, but she has been unofficially endorsed by Philippe Maystadt, the leading representative of the “démo-chrétiens”.
Her rival Richard Fournaux, the mayor of touristic city Dinant, a businessman and a former president of the PSC youth wing, clearly prays in another chapel.
Poncelet may yet emerge as a compromise victor - a scenario which would force Dehaene to reshuffle his goverment against his wishes.
Who is nearer to the voters' mood - a maverick like Ms Milquet close to the “egghead vote” or a loyal party regular like Richard Fournaux?
The PSC's dilemma is an issue for all political parties faced with a widening chasm between the population and the “political class”.
A poll published by the Dutch-speaking financial daily De Tijd on New Year's eve epitomises this growing divorce. Whereas 63&percent; of the respondents in Flanders expressed the wish to return to a unitary country (one parliament and one government), this nostalgia was only shared by 3&percent; of politicians.
Other figures - relating to crime, third world aid and drugs - confirm that the public and politicians seem increasingly to have widely-diverging agendas and radically-different sets of priorities.
Although many would agree that sometimes politicians are right not to heed the mood of the crowd, the issue of public disaffection is the major challenge for all of Belgium's traditional political parties.
|Subject Categories||Politics and International Relations|
|Countries / Regions||Belgium|