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Belgium Starts Bargaining for New Government

N-VA chairman Bart De Wever arrives for his consultation with King Albert II 14 Jun 2010

Political parties in Belgium are negotiating to form a new government, following the victory of Flemish separatists in elections Sunday.

Despite the stunning victory of the New Flemish Alliance in Belgian elections Sunday, it fell far short of a majority, winning only 27 out of 150 seats in the lower house.

The party is calling for greater autonomy for Flemish speaking Flanders in the north and wants the region to eventually secede, raising fears that long-standing calls for permanently splitting Belgium along linguistic lines may eventually be realized. Two smaller Flemish parties backing independence for Flanders won a smaller number of seats.

But together they still are far from a parliamentary majority, leading to the usual outcome for Belgium, lengthy negotiations to form a new government. During the last general elections in 2007 it took Belgian parties about seven months to reach agreement.

In remarks to Belgian television the leader of the French-speaking Socialist Party, Elio Di Rupo, expressed confidence that an agreement would eventually be reached. The Socialists placed second in the polls, and Di Rupo is considered a likely candidate to be the next prime minister.

Di Rupo said it was important that politicians in both the Flemish speaking north and French speaking south of the country work together to find an agreement. He said it was critical to avoid a political stalemate that would leave Belgium without a new government.

The richer, Flemish speaking region has been pushing for greater local autonomy for years. But in the streets of Brussels, Flemmings like Peter, a young banker, do not believe the country will split.

"We have some difficulties, but we can live together," he said. "We have to live together. But each part with its own way of life. But I think we will stay Belgium [together]. I am quite sure."

French-speaking Walloons interviewed in Brussels offered similar sentiments.

Analysts and politicians say it is critical for Belgium to form a new government swiftly so it can address pressing issues like the economy. There is also pressure to form a new government before Belgium takes over the rotating European Union presidency on July 1. But many observers believe it will take weeks, if not months, to form a new government.