Belgium headed for new govt


Summary

The swing is seen as a big step towards a change of government.

The centre-right Flemish Christian Democrats were poised to play a key role in the next government after they came out on top in the key Dutch-speaking region of Flanders, giving a solid lead in parliament.

Since no party fields candidates in both of Belgium’s two main regions, winning in Flanders, where 60 percent of the population live, is key to national success.

With partial results showing the Christian Democrats had won about 30 percent of the vote in Flanders, party heavyweight Yves Leterme looked more likely than ever to replace Mr Verhofstadt as prime minister.

Horse-trading

But although Christian Democrats can count on a central role, it was far less certain which of the other parties would emerge as coalition partners in the new government during the lengthy round of horse-trading due to follow the election.

With 95 percent of ballots counted, the Flemish Christian Democrats were firmly ahead of other parties in the House of Representatives with 30 out of 150 seats.

The French-speaking Liberals, the Reform Movement, were in second position with 22 seats, just ahead of the French-speaking Socialists with 21 seats.

Losing seven seats, Verhofstadt’s centre-right Flemish Liberal Democrats were in fourth place with 18 seats, just barely ahead of the far-right Vlaams Belang, or Flemish Interests party, with 17.

Conceding defeat

Acknowledging the defeat of his Flemish Liberal Democrats, Mr Verhofstadt said at his party headquarters: “The results are clear. Voters have opted for another majority than the one that has governed the country over the last eight years.”

After stirring past tensions with French-speakers in Wallonia, Mr Leterme was quick to raise the sensitive issue of devolving more powers to the regions, which Wallons fear could be a prelude to breaking up the country.

“Belgium is a country built on a historic compromise between two big (language) communities and that has to be respected, the country and its institutions need to function,” he said shortly after his party’s election victory.

Flanders parties are demanding wider political powers, and notably they want to manage their own employment policy, which is currently in the hands of the federal government.

They are trying to capitalise on the widespread belief in Flanders, where unemployment is low, that Flemish taxpayers foot the bill for unemployment benefits in Wallonia, where joblessness is a huge problem.

Although Mr Leterme is perfectly bilingual thanks to a francophone father and Flemish mother, he has made little effort to bridge the linguistic divide that cuts through Belgian politics and life.

In addition to disparaging Wallons for their failure to learn Dutch, he has stoked controversy in the past in Wallonia by saying that Belgium was an “accident of history” and that the country has no “intrinsic value.”

French-Dutch tensions are running particularly high after the
French-language state television channel aired a spoof ‘breaking news’ story in December saying Flanders had voted to break away.

The program, which even included images of trams in Brussels held up at the “new border” with Flanders, was so realistic that the station was flooded with calls from disturbed viewers and sparked a media and political storm.

As always in Belgian politics, language will play a key role as the parties sit down to form a new coalition government. A linguistic balance is essential.

Negotiations are due to start on Monday but a government deal is likely to take at least one month.


The swing is seen as a big step towards a change of government.

The centre-right Flemish Christian Democrats were poised to play a key role in the next government after they came out on top in the key Dutch-speaking region of Flanders, giving a solid lead in parliament.

Since no party fields candidates in both of Belgium’s two main regions, winning in Flanders, where 60 percent of the population live, is key to national success.

With partial results showing the Christian Democrats had won about 30 percent of the vote in Flanders, party heavyweight Yves Leterme looked more likely than ever to replace Mr Verhofstadt as prime minister.

Horse-trading

But although Christian Democrats can count on a central role, it was far less certain which of the other parties would emerge as coalition partners in the new government during the lengthy round of horse-trading due to follow the election.

With 95 percent of ballots counted, the Flemish Christian Democrats were firmly ahead of other parties in the House of Representatives with 30 out of 150 seats.

The French-speaking Liberals, the Reform Movement, were in second position with 22 seats, just ahead of the French-speaking Socialists with 21 seats.

Losing seven seats, Verhofstadt’s centre-right Flemish Liberal Democrats were in fourth place with 18 seats, just barely ahead of the far-right Vlaams Belang, or Flemish Interests party, with 17.

Conceding defeat

Acknowledging the defeat of his Flemish Liberal Democrats, Mr Verhofstadt said at his party headquarters: “The results are clear. Voters have opted for another majority than the one that has governed the country over the last eight years.”

After stirring past tensions with French-speakers in Wallonia, Mr Leterme was quick to raise the sensitive issue of devolving more powers to the regions, which Wallons fear could be a prelude to breaking up the country.

“Belgium is a country built on a historic compromise between two big (language) communities and that has to be respected, the country and its institutions need to function,” he said shortly after his party’s election victory.

Flanders parties are demanding wider political powers, and notably they want to manage their own employment policy, which is currently in the hands of the federal government.

They are trying to capitalise on the widespread belief in Flanders, where unemployment is low, that Flemish taxpayers foot the bill for unemployment benefits in Wallonia, where joblessness is a huge problem.

Although Mr Leterme is perfectly bilingual thanks to a francophone father and Flemish mother, he has made little effort to bridge the linguistic divide that cuts through Belgian politics and life.

In addition to disparaging Wallons for their failure to learn Dutch, he has stoked controversy in the past in Wallonia by saying that Belgium was an “accident of history” and that the country has no “intrinsic value.”

French-Dutch tensions are running particularly high after the
French-language state television channel aired a spoof ‘breaking news’ story in December saying Flanders had voted to break away.

The program, which even included images of trams in Brussels held up at the “new border” with Flanders, was so realistic that the station was flooded with calls from disturbed viewers and sparked a media and political storm.

As always in Belgian politics, language will play a key role as the parties sit down to form a new coalition government. A linguistic balance is essential.

Negotiations are due to start on Monday but a government deal is likely to take at least one month.