Belgium: National vote amid rise of far-right and far-left

Belgium goes to the polls on Sunday for national and regional elections. The elections in the linguistically divided country, which is split between Dutch-speaking Flanders in the north and French-speaking Wallonia in the south, are being held on the same day as the European Parliament elections.

The national vote is set to see a surge in support for far-right Flemish separatists, which could make it difficult to form a new government.

The last time Belgium held a federal election, in 2019, it took 493 days for a new prime minister to be sworn in to lead a seven-party coalition government.

The wait was even longer after the 2010 vote, when the country took 541 days to form a government, still a world record. Now there are fears that this record could be broken as support grows for the far right in Flanders and the far left in Wallonia.

Far right ahead, but isolated in Flanders

Two Flemish nationalist parties are poised to win the most votes in Flanders, according to the latest opinion polls. More than 25% of the vote is expected to go to the far-right Vlaams Belang, which supports independence for Flanders.

The party’s rise follows a broader pattern of gains for the far right across Europe and the victory of ally Geert Wilders in the neighboring Netherlands last year.

Close behind Vlaams Belang is the right-wing nationalist New Flemish Alliance (N-VA), which could get around 20% of the vote.

The victory of the hardline party pushing for Flanders to become an independent country has fueled talk that Belgium could be heading for a breakup. But other parties in Flanders, including the N-VA, have a long-standing agreement to keep the far right out of government in the region.

N-VA leader Bart De Wever, who wants to be the next prime minister, has repeatedly insisted that he will not make a deal with Vlaams Belang this time either.

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Wallonia looks to the left

While Dutch-speaking voters are expected to swing to the right, more of their French-speaking compatriots in Wallonia may turn to the far left.

The Socialist Party is expected to win as much as a quarter of the vote, but its long-standing dominance in French-speaking areas could be eroded by the far-left Workers’ Party.

According to the latest Ipsos poll, the Workers’ Party could get close to 20% in the Brussels region and 15% in Wallonia. This means that its number of seats in the federal parliament would rise to 19, compared to 12 at present.

Combined with the 26 seats predicted for Vlaams Belang, this means that some 45 seats will be taken by radical parties that are likely to be excluded from any government deal. The number of seats in the Belgian Federal Parliament is constitutionally set at 150.

Poorer Wallonia, whose decline began in the 1960s as Flanders’ economy boomed, traditionally leans toward national unity because the region would likely find it difficult to survive economically on its own.

dh/rc (AP, AFP)