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King appoints Flemish nationalist to lead Belgian coalition talks

King appoints Flemish nationalist to lead Belgian coalition talks

by host

BRUSSELS — Belgium’s king tasked Bart De Wever, the president of the Flemish-nationalist party New Flemish Alliance (N-VA), with coordinating exploratory talks to form a new Belgian government on Wednesday.

De Wever’s N-VA beat the far-right party Vlaams Belang in national, regional and European elections on Sunday, maintaining its spot as Belgium’s largest political party. The win came as a surprise, as pollsters had predicted a far-right landslide among Flemish voters for months.

King Philippe is meeting with De Wever Wednesday afternoon at the royal palace, it said in a statement. Local media reported the king would appoint De Wever as informateur, a scouting role to start talks with all political parties and gather information on potential coalition partners.

In Belgium’s southern region of Wallonia, the center-right, liberal Reformist Movement (MR) won the election. A centrist, Francophone party called Les Engagés also doubled its score compared to the last major election.

The outcome of Sunday’s vote could pave the way for a center-right cabinet focused on fiscal discipline and a reform of Belgium’s Byzantine institutional structure. Both N-VA and MR campaigned on platforms advocating a center-right economic reform to cut back the country’s spiraling government deficit.

De Wever, who is also the mayor of the northern port city of Antwerp, in past years tempered his ambition to break up Belgium. During the campaign, his more moderate strategy of state reform clashed with the far-right Vlaams Belang, which campaigned on a promise to declare Flanders “sovereign” and set a deadline of five years to break up Belgium.

Forming a Belgian federal government is notoriously difficult. The country holds the world record for the longest period without a government from when, in 2010-2011, it needed 541 days to get it done. 

Parties will have to form regional ruling coalitions as well as a federal coalition. Negotiations happen in parallel and risk disrupting one another if parties clash in the process. 

Forming a government this time could go significantly faster, with MR President Georges-Louis Bouchez saying on Monday it could be done within “a couple of weeks.”

De Wever is in charge of talks to form a Flemish regional government. In Wallonia, MR and Les Engagés on Tuesday pledged to form a regional government together.

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