(Reuters) – The Flemish separatist N-VA party was on course to emerge as the biggest single party in the lower house of Belgium’s parliament after an election on Sunday.
The following is a look at what is likely to happen now.
SEARCH FOR A COALITION
Belgian governments typically comprise a group of parties representing a majority in Dutch-speaking Flanders and a separate group of parties from the French-speaking part of the country. The last ruling coalition was made up of five parties.
Forming a government can take some time — the present caretaker prime minister, Yves Leterme, took nine months to cobble together an administration after the 2007 vote.
About 60 percent of Belgium’s 10.6 million people speak Dutch, the rest French. A small number also speak German.
Within a few days of the election, King Albert typically appoints an “informateur.” The person, normally an elder statesman not expected to feature in the next government, holds talks with the parties and advises the king on which coalition is likely to be most stable and who should lead it.
The king then appoints a “formateur” to form and potentially lead a government.
N-VA IN GOVERNMENT, WITH FRENCH-SPEAKING PM
N-VA (Nieuw-Vlaamse Alliantie or New Flemish Alliance) has pledged to deliver more powers to richer Dutch-speaking Flanders and would ideally create a confederation, with Belgium retaining control over relatively few matters, such as foreign policy and the military.
All French-speaking party leaders have expressed a willingness to reform the state, but argued that the De Wever’s “confederal” system goes too far and is simply a step toward the dissolution of Belgium.
An important question is whether De Wever will toe the hard line of his campaign or show a willingness to compromise after his election victory.
De Wever has said he has no great desire to become prime minister as Flemish leaders who became premier have usually toned down their pro-Flemish rhetoric. He has suggested instead allowing a French speaker to become prime minister, for the first time since 1974, in return for a devolution deal [ID:nLDE64T02K].
The most likely candidate is francophone Socialist leader Elio Di Rupo because the socialists as a whole have the most seats.
Other Flemish parties also seek powers for their region, but most stop short of advocating the end of Belgium. Some analysts say there could be two rounds of coalition formation: one within the linguistic regions and one for a federal coalition.
MONTHS OF WRANGLING? Acting Prime Minister Yves Leterme took a record nine months to form a government in 2007. The delay increased the risk premium investors demanded for holding Belgian debt.
Economists say Belgium cannot afford another round of tortuous talks, with its debt-to-GDP ratio set to rise above 100 percent this year or next.
Analysts believe economic pressures and the fact that Belgium takes on the six-month presidency of the European Union at the start of July could focus minds.
De Wever has said there is no point in having talks that go on for six or seven months.
GOVERNMENT WITHOUT N-VA
Should the N-VA abandon efforts to form a government, other parties could rally round to create a coalition.
This might prevent financial speculators, looking for a next victim in the euro zone’s sovereign debt crisis, from targeting Belgium.
However, Flemish parties realize that voters have called for a reform of the state and might consider it political suicide to disobey the demands of voters for change.
If French- and Dutch-speaking leaders cannot agree and talks drag on for months, a new elections may become inevitable, although it is not clear that the electorate would vote in any new way.