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First results coming in from Belgium’s national elections are confirming the success of the separatist New Flemish Alliance (NVA), which seeks independence for the northern, Dutch-speaking part of the country.
The NVA was seen as the clear winner in the Flanders region, ousting the Christian Democratic and Flemish party of Prime Minister Yves Leterme as the most popular party among Dutch-speaking Belgians.
In the southern, French-speaking part of the country, the Socialist Party appeared on course to re-establish its historic position as the dominant political force.
With results in for about a quarter of districts, the NVA had around 30 percent of the Flemish vote, almost twice as many as the Christian Democrats. Among Francophones, the Socialist Party was seen getting over 30 percent, well ahead of liberal Reform Movement.
If confirmed the results are expected to plunge Belgium into more political uncertainty. With no partners in the French-speaking part of the country NVA leader Bart De Wever will struggle to form a national government, opening the way for what are expected to be lengthy negotiations among the other parties to cobble together a coalition administration.
The combination of votes for the two Socialist parties in the French- and Dutch-speaking parts of the country could make the Socialists the biggest political family. That could perhaps open the way for a first Socialist and first French-speaking prime minister since 1974.
The previous five-party coalition collapsed in April in a dispute over attempts by Flemish parties to roll back minority language rights granted to Francophones living in officially Dutch-speaking areas around Brussels. That issue has poisoned relations among mainstream parties for years, leading to political gridlock and a rise in support for the Flemish separatists.
With no sign of breakthrough in talks on the linguistic issues, concern will grow about Belgium’s ability to deal with its serious economic difficulties.