World Bullletin/News Desk
A Flemish party that wants to split Belgium triumphed in a parliamentary election on Sunday, a result that could make it hard to form a coalition quickly and deliver austerity to contain a rising national debt.
Belgium can ill afford drawn-out coalition talks because policy paralysis could make the country more vulnerable on financial markets that are closely watching a sovereign debt crisis among the 16 countries that use the euro.
The N-VA (New Flemish Alliance) was the strongest party in the Dutch-speaking Flanders region of northern Belgium. It won more votes there than the French-speaking Socialists (PS) secured in separate voting in the southern, Francophone region of Wallonia, nearly complete results showed.
"The N-VA has won the election today," N-VA leader Bart De Wever, 39, told cheering, flag-waving supporters who burst into a rendition of the Flemish national anthem.
Interior Ministry projections showed the N-VA, which advocates Belgium's step-by-step dissolution with Flanders and Wallonia going their separate ways, would have 27 seats in the lower house of parliament, one more than the PS.
But together with the Flemish socialists, the PS could form the largest group in parliament, meaning PS leader Elio Di Rupo could become the next prime minister.
De Wever is reluctant to be leader of a united Belgium, and has said he is open to the idea of a first French-speaking premier since 1974 if that would bring more powers to Flanders.
"You don't have to like each other to work together," he said.
The Christian Democrats and the liberals, former partners in the government, suffered heavy losses.
NO IMMEDIATE END TO BELGIUM
It is the first time a party advocating the end of Belgium has won the most votes in a federal election.
But the N-VA will not be able to start devolving powers to the regions immediately in the country of 10.6 million people, which hosts the headquarters of the European Union and the Nato military alliance.
"Belgium is not about to split up, but it is set for a reorganization," said Professor Marc Swyngedouw of the Catholic University of Leuven.
The electoral system -- effectively two elections with separate parties seeking votes from French-speakers and the majority Dutch-speakers -- means at least four parties will be needed to form a governing coalition.
The N-VA's lead in polls triggered a nationwide debate about the possible break-up of the 180-year-old nation, with richer Flanders splitting from Wallonia, where unemployment is about double the national average.
Parties from poorer French-speaking regions see devolution as a step toward Belgium's break-up, which they oppose, but all have said they would consider some reform of the state.
RISK OF LENGTHY TALKS
Yves Leterme, the Christian Democrat who won the 2007 election on a pledge to win more powers for Flanders, took nine months to form his five-party government. He quit in December 2008 but returned for a second spell a year later, only to quit again in April when a Flemish party left the coalition.
Economists say Belgium cannot afford long coalition talks, with a debt-to-GDP ratio set to exceed 100 percent this year or next, the third highest level in Europe behind Greece and Italy.
ING economist Philippe Ledent said it was important to get a coalition in place by September, adding: "After September, the reaction of the financial markets would lead to difficult consequences for the Belgian economy.
Etienne de Callatay, economist at Bank Degroof, said months of talks would delay austerity moves and put Belgium "behind other (euro zone) countries in regard to structural reform."
Belgium also takes on the six-month presidency of the European Union on July 1, an organizational role that gives a country a chance to shine on the world stage.
Some analysts said the economic risks and the embarrassment of political fighting while Belgium holds the EU presidency could spur party chiefs to agree more quickly than expected.
"This will give them the incentive to take the initiative and not delay," said Tony Valcke, a political scientist at the University of Ghent.Last Mod: 23 Mayıs 2014, 14:47