Separatists’ election success means extended coalition talks

Belgium has a fresh crisis on its hands, with Sunday's legislative polls yet again throwing up two distinct and mutually hostile political blocs. The country, which has been mired in political instability caused by linguistic quarrels between the Dutch-speaking Flems and the French-speaking Wallons has been unable to come out of a political deadlock. About 60 per cent of Belgium's 10.6 million people speak Dutch, the rest French. A small number also speak German.

The New Flemish Alliance (NVA) a nationalist and separatist party emerged triumphant in the northern Flemish-speaking regions, while the Socialist Party did well in the French speaking districts. This has raised the spectre of the country's outright break up or the creation of a loose federation between the Flemish and French-speaking Wallon regions.

Belgium is to take over the six-month rotating presidency of the European Union on the 1st of July 2010 but it now looks highly unlikely that a government will be in place by then. Elections were called after Prime Minister Yves Leterme tendered his resignation in April following disputes over the areas surrounding Brussels, the capital, a French-speaking enclave in Flemish territory.

The New Flemish Alliance (N-VA) and their leader Bart de Wever won an estimated 30 per cent of the vote in the northern, Dutch-speaking part of the country, well ahead of the ruling Christian Democrats. Flemish nationalist gains were matched by a large victory for the socialists in French-speaking south Wallonia, with both parties now expected to spearhead government coalition talks. The last coalition was made up of five parties.

The Belgian Interior Ministry indicated that the NVA had obtained 27 seats in Parliament's lower house, just one more than the Socialists. The complex nature of Belgian politics means coalition talks are likely to take months, with September cited as a possible date for a new government to take office.

At the centre of disagreements is the future of the Belgian capital, Brussels, which is dominated by French-speakers and enjoys bilingual status despite being geographically situated in Flanders. The NVD's victory in the wealthier north is widely seen as a sign of exasperation among the Flems, who have been calling for more power to the regions.

Financial transfers from the wealthier Flanders region have so far ensured the country's unity and solidarity but the Flems claim they are fed up of paying for the wasteful, left-wing southerners and would like to keep their money for themselves.

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