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Coronavirus infects Belgium’s search for a government

Belgium’s already intractable 20-month search for a governing majority hit a new hurdle on Tuesday, when one of the political leaders chosen by the king to negotiate a coalition tested positive for coronavirus.

Belgium has had no stable parliamentary majority since December 2018, and legislative elections in May last year only made the arithmetic more complicated, as rival Dutch and French-speaking parties struggle to agree a programme.

French-speaking liberal Sophie Wilmes is serving as a caretaker premier conducting everyday business, but her three-party centre-right coalition controls only 38 of the 150 seats in parliament.

In March, the parliament voted to give her powers for six months to oversee Belgium’s response to the coronavirus, but that is due to expire within weeks and there is no sign of a new government emerging.

Philippe, King of the Belgians has asked a string of party leaders to negotiate a new government, but 470 days have passed and each mission has failed.

Now, Flemish liberal Egbert Lachaert and young socialist Conner Rousseau have been tasked with breaking the logjam — but their talks will have to be conducted by videophone, as the former has tested positive for Covid-19 and has been quarantined.

The duo had been due to present an update on their progress to the king on Friday. Belgium’s longest period without a government lasted 541 days in 2010 and 2011, and left the country battling the image that it has become ungovernable.