by Nathan Van de Velde, Brussels office
25th of May will go down as the election D-day in Belgium. Not only will Belgians vote for the new EU Parliament, Federal and regional elections are also being held on the same day. Since the next elections won’t be for another 5 years, the political parties who lose on the 25th will be condemned to be in the opposition on all levels for a considerable amount of time.
As evidenced by the 2010 elections, forming a federal government is not a straightforward task. The N-VA (New Flemish Alliance) steamrolled their way to victory in Flanders, whilst the PS (Socialist Party) took Wallonia. What followed was a record-breaking 541 day formation deadlock, where the PS eventually came out on top. But has the political situation changed since then? Latest polls suggest that both the N-VA and the PS are once again the largest political parties in their respective territories and with the elections taking place on several levels, a power struggle resulting in a political impasse is once again on the cards.
An unusual aspect of the Belgian voting system is that there is no nation-wide voting (Flemish citizens cannot vote for a Walloon political party and vice-versa), a curious feature given that the objective is the formation of a federal government. As a result, Belgian elections have always had a linguistic undertone, with parties from both communities criticising each other without the fear of electoral repercussions from their voters. This was demonstrated by N-VA Party Leader Bart De Wever’s new year reception speech, where he announced that the voters had a choice; continue floundering with the PS or have the courage to vote for change and vote for the N-VA. This polarisation between the linguistic communities stems from the stances of the two main political parties on the thorny issue of devolution. The N-VA, initially a strong advocate of splitting Belgium in two, has recently taken a more strategic stride and instead focusses on implementing a confederal government structure. Whilst this stance is not as extreme as demanding independence, its French speaking adversary, the PS, opposes any state reform which seeks to further decentralise power. These diverging federal opinions are currently displayed in debates where the PS is defending its accomplishments, whilst the N-VA is consistently criticising the previous legislature and voicing the urge for actual change.
It will be interesting to see which political party will have the opportunity to form a coalition and influence the Belgian political landscape for the next 5 years.
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