Voting gets underway in Belgium's legislative elections
Voting began Sunday in Belgium's legislative elections, with the strength of Flemish separatist parties hiking concerns of moves towards splitting the country along its linguistic faultline.
The independence-minded NVA led by 39-year-old Bart De Wever can expect some 25 percent of the vote in Belgium's richer, Dutch-speaking region of Flanders in the north of the country, according to the pre-vote polls,
Add fellow separatist groups and the vote regionally stacks up at 40 percent, the kind of figure to send shivers down the spines of federalist politicians in the poorer French-speaking region of Wallonia to the south.
In French-speaking Wallonia, the socialists were the pre-vote favourites with opinion polls giving them at least 30 percent of the vote there.
The two communities could then have more than the usual problems in forming a coalition government in a country where only the Brussels capital region is officially bilingual.
It took months after the last legislative elections in 2007 for a government to emerge. Analysts fear any duplication could lead to further radicalisation and bring the spectre of an eventual split into stark focus.
Voting is obligatory for the 150 parliamentary seats in the country of 10.5 million people, 60 percent Flemish, where no political party operates nationally.
The early elections were made necessary when the previous five-party coalition of Flemish Christian Democrat Yves Leterme crumbled in April over special right afforded to the francophone minority in Flemish suburbs of Brussels.
The polling stations will close at 3:00 pm (1300 GMT) with the first results expected within three hours.
© 2010 AFP