By Gregory – Dear citizens of Antwerp,
Next Sunday you will probably be standing in the queue again to cast your vote. ‘What… again’ I hear you say. Yes, that’s right, again. And this time it isn’t to elect a new federal or regional parliamant but to elect the city council, and indirectly your new mayor.
That I don’t have to stand in the queue anymore saddens me. Not that I particularly like queuing, but because, according to the polls, the elections in Antwerp seems to have taken on the allure of a presidential race between the current mayor (member of the the socialist party) and the Flemish nationalist party (N-VA) candidate. I’m sure that many of you won’t mind me likening this election to a presidential contest, especially as many of you living in Antwerp have a sense that your city is the center of the country.
Country…what country? Belgium? Well…that’s where it could go wrong with these elections. According to the polls you are about to elect a Flemish nationalist as mayor whose sole purpose in politics is to tear up the country and replace it with a Flemish republic within the borders of the European Union. Being the mayor of a city is not exactly the right platform from which to start on this quest. A mayor needs to deal with the problems its inhabinants face, with urban development, schooling, hospitals, parks and general welfare.
That leaves me wondering why the leader of the N-VA wants to get elected as mayor of Antwerp and not try to get elected as prime minister of Belgium or even as first minister of Flanders. Is he going to use your city, a city with a respectable repution in Europe and the world, as a platform to make noise in national politics or is he really intrested in your and your neighbours’ wellbeing? Will he stay on as mayor for the full six years if he gets elected, or will he desert the city when national elections are held in 2014?
Unfortunately I will not be able to cast my vote as I no longer live in Antwerp. But as a regular visitor to the city I’ve seen it changing for the better over the last six years. Many infrastructure projects have been completed such as the renovation of the Central Station and the extension of some of the tram lines, the refurbishment of many streets and squares, the creation of new parks and green spaces. Your city, under its socialist mayor has also been supporting numerous social initiatives such as street markets, days where a neighbourhoud closes off their street in order to create one big playground for children, or days where neighbours clean their street in the morning and enjoy a street party in the afternoon. Such events, if they existed in London, would be welcomed by many people living here in the UK capital, my current home.
At first sight these initiatives sound insignificant but for a city they are utterly important as they create a social fabric. They create neighbourhoods where people live with each other rather then next to each other. It creates a sense of security and solidarity. For a mayor, that is a great achievement.
I’m not writing this letter, dear citizens of Antwerp, to tell you who to vote for. That is your decision and it should stay that way. But I hope I made you think about the choice you have to make. Think twice and then vote!