In the past, some slogans have proved their money’s worth at the ballot box. When the Christian Democrats said about Jean-Luc Dehaene that “the trip is long, the guide is experienced”, people believed them. When the stern-looking socialist Louis Tobback called himself “your social security”, the voters agreed. More often than not, though, the slogans could fit any party and are forgotten the minute the elections are over.
Personalities, on the other hand, play an increasingly important role. As many voters are no longer guided by tradition or ideology, they tend to support politicians they trust, irrespective of their party. Guy Verhofstadt and Steve Stevaert pushed their parties – liberals and socialists respectively – to unknown heights during the “purple era”. In 2007, Yves Leterme personified the alternative to these politicians, after they had lost credibility, and received a record 800,000 votes.
This election, Bart De Wever is set to make his small nationalist N-VA somewhat of a sensation. (In the words of one observer, he had better, in the run up to 13 June, send the rest of his party on a holiday to Austria.) The surprise hit of the 2010 elections may be someone else, though: CD&V’s Marianne Thyssen.
Thyssen became party president in 2008. Before that she was a little-known yet wellrespected MEP. She would have preferred to have stayed in the European Parliament, but when Leterme asked her, a sense of responsibility made her accept the presidency of CD&V (often called the most difficult job in Belgian politics).
She is well spoken and, like Inge Vervotte (another CD&V electoral champion), earnest. Thyssen’s greatest asset in this campaign is the fact that, for all her experience, she is relatively new to the public. She has survived the events of the past three years untarnished, unlike Leterme, who had to resign as prime minister twice and could not live up to his electoral promises of 2007.
Another of her qualities is modesty: she did not seek to become party president, she says; it just happened to her. Now she does not seek to become this country’s first female prime minister, but that just might happen to her, too.