Political crisis to break new record

5th November 2007, Comments 0 comments

5 November 2007, BRUSSELS - Belgium is poised to break a record on Tuesday for its longest period without a new government as its politicians struggle to form a ruling coalition nearly five months after a general election.

5 November 2007

BRUSSELS  - Belgium is poised to break a record on Tuesday for its longest period without a new government as its politicians struggle to form a ruling coalition nearly five months after a general election.

Unless Belgium's squabbling parties agree a coalition before then, Tuesday marks the 149th day the linguistically divided country has gone without a new government since the 10 June election, one more day than the previous record from 1988.

The major parties' failure so far to hammer out a coalition has fuelled speculation that the country could split along the linguistic faultline of its richer Dutch speaking half and the poorer French speaking half.

Over the past 40 years, the country has increasingly struggled to form new governments amid tensions between Dutch speakers, which make up 60 percent of the population of 10.5 million, and French speakers.

As the crisis grinds on, a broad state of concern about the country's future has begun to emerge among the general public, which often struggles to keep up with the ins and outs of Belgium's complex politics.

The country's largely French-speaking capital is increasingly bedecked with Belgian flags hung from windows and balconies by individuals concerned about the political morass gripping their country.

"The year 2007 will either be the beginning of the end of this country or the beginning of a new era when we decide to defend what unites rather than what separate us," said internationally renowned Flemish choreographer Anna Teresa De Keersmaeker.

Under Belgium's complex political system, parties are drawn up along linguistic lines but a ruling coalition that runs the federal government must draw on both Dutch and French speaking politicians.

Coalition talks have bogged down over Flemish demands for more power to be handed down to regional governments, a prospect which politicians in the southern French speaking Wallonia fear could be the first step on the slippery road to a split.

Although top Flemish politician Yves Leterme, who is leading the negotiations and is a likely candidate for prime minister, has made progress on some minor issues, major hurdles remain on key topics such as foreign and labour policy and home affairs.

Tensions have also flared over the voting rights of French speakers in the Flemish suburbs surrounding Brussels where they can currently vote for Francophone politicians, much to the disgust of Flemish speakers.

Leterme said recently that although relations between the Flemish and Walloons "is not the most important issue on the political programme, it's the tripping stone."

"It's time to take decisions and to accept a compromise," he added.

In the June election, Flemish parties demanded that the regional Flemish government get more power to run economic policy amid public opinion that rich Flanders currently foots the bill for jobless benefits in high-unemployment Wallonia.

According to political scientist, Vincent de Coorebyter, Flemish politicians "have understood" that they have a big enough majority to shift the centre of gravity of political power towards the regions.

As coalition talks rumble on, Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt's government has remained in place managing the country's day-to-day affairs but has undertaken no new policy initiatives.

[Copyright AFP 2007]

Subject: Belgian news

0 Comments To This Article