Political Players in Belgium
Nationalist Parties: The N-VA, which contested the 2007 elections in an alliance with the CD&V, emerged as a force to be reckoned with in 2010, winning 27 seats at the June elections (a gain of 21 seats). However, N-VA leader Bart de Wever’s declaration that his party’s demand for political devolution (which he views as a step toward an inevitable separation) was not negotiable effectively ruled out any chance that he might pull together a majority coalition. The N-VA finished on top again in 2014, increasing its seat total to 33. De Wever once again failed to cobble together a majority coalition, but his adoption of a more flexible position on the issue of devolution appears to have cleared the way for the formation of a new government that will be dominated by Flemish parties. Charles Michel, the leader of the Wallonian MR, has indicated that the N-VA has agreed to temporarily put regional autonomy aside while the government focuses on restoring the economy to health. While a promising development, it remains to be seen when Flemish domination of the government does in fact dampen, rather than stoke, separatist sentiment.
Liberal Parties: Gains made by Open VLD and its Francophone counterpart, the MR, at the June 2014 elections restored their position as the largest cross-regional bloc in the Parliament. Both are set to join a new government, with the MR serving as the lone Walloon party in a four-member coalition that also includes the CD&V and the N-VA. The liberal parties generally favor a predominant role for the private sector in economic affairs.
Christian Democratic Parties: The CD&V made a net gain of one seat at the June 2014 elections, while its Francophone counterpart, the CDH, held steady at nine seats, giving the two parties a combined total of 27 seats. The two parties have typically served in the federal government together, and both parties’ adoption of increasingly secular policy stances facilitated their participation in the outgoing center-left government headed by the PS. However, the refusal of the CDH to join a government that did not also include the PS, the largest of the Francophone parties, thwarted N-VA leader De Wever’s bid to form a majority coalition, and the CDH has not been invited to join the four-party coalition pulled together by MR leader Michel.
Socialist Parties: The Francophone PS and the Flemish SP.A advocate state control of key firms, but they have for the most part supported economic liberalization efforts when included in the government. The PS suffered a net loss of three seats at the June 2014 elections, and, while retaining its status as the largest of the Walloon parties and the second largest party in the Parliament, it now has 10 less seats than the N-VA. PS leader Elio di Rupo became Belgium’s first French-speaking prime minister in nearly four decades in late 2011, but the losses suffered by the PS and other Walloon parties all but ruled out any chance that he might again head the government. In any case, neither of the socialist parties has been invited to join the coalition being pulled together by MR leader Michel, and they will have limited influence as long as the proposed center-right government hangs together.
Monarchy: Owing to the absence of a clearly dominant party (or parties), the king’s authority to choose who forms a government gives him more than symbolic influence. The monarch is also one of the few unifying factors in an otherwise divided country. However, the abdication of Albert II, who passed the crown to his son, Philippe, in July 2013, has helped to stoke the fires of separatism. The revelation that the retiring king will receive a $1.2 million annual stipend has focused attention on the high cost of maintaining the monarchy, lending weight to the republican arguments of the Flemish separatists.
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