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Belgian secessionists poised to win election, but don't expect a breakup

All the polls indicate that the big winners in Belgium’s election Sunday will be a secessionist party that that urges the splitting up the country to create an independent republic in the northern region of Flanders.

However, even the expected victory of the separatist New Flemish Alliance (NVA) and its charismatic leader Bart De Wever is unlikely to bring about any dramatic sudden breakup of Belgium.

A more likely scenario is weeks of negotiations among the patchwork of parties representing the country’s 6 million Dutch speakers and 4 million Francophones before a new government is formed, followed by months of squabbling over a revision of the Constitution in which the Flemish will demand a greater transfer of authority to their region while the French-speakers fight a losing battle to ensure the federal government keeps some power.

Latest opinion polls showed De Wever’s party emerging as by far the biggest in Flanders, more than 10 points ahead of its nearest rival. However, even with that surge, the NVA is only predicted to get 26 percent of the Flemish vote. Together with two smaller separatist parties, the Flemish nationalist vote could rise to 45 percent. That is still short of a majority in favor of breaking up Belgium, and De Wever is aware that a proportion of his votes come from Flemings who are dissatisfied with mainstream parties rather than convinced supporters of an independent Flanders.

Among the French-speakers who dominate in southern Wallonia and the officially-bilingual capital, Brussels, there is little support for a breakup of the country. A party that advocates union with France remains a tiny minority, although a recent poll held south of the border revealed that two-thirds of French people would support incorporating the rest of Belgium into France if the Flemish were to split.

The major brake on Flanders’ drive for independence is Brussels. The Flemish claim the city as their capital, but its population is overwhelmingly French-speaking and hostile to any talk of annexation by a breakaway Flanders. Since the city is of vital importance to the Flemish economy, few are willing to give it up as the price of secession.