Belgium’s political vacuum to end as ‘real’ coalition talks begin

BELGIUM’S politicians were getting down to the business of trying to form a government last night, ending a world record-breaking spell in a political vacuum.

It will still take time, but talks have cleared the biggest hurdle to forming an administration and ending paralysis which began after a general election in June last year.

Elio Di Rupo, tipped to be the next prime minister, emerged after midnight to declare the way was clear for “real” coalition talks to begin.

Not before time: on June 2 this year, Belgium passed the previous global record for delay in forming a government, which until then had been held by Cambodia, at 353 days.

But in a land of notoriously fragile coalition administrations, the latest trials and tribulations have left the Belgian public mostly unconcerned, as the nation limps along with a caretaker team in office, and public services function as normally as they ever do.

The prospect of a fully functioning government once more follows a deal last night in which a plethora of minority parties — left, right, Flemish- and French-speaking — sank political differences over Belgium’s contentious constituency boundaries, drawn up on French-speaking and Flemish-speaking lines.

The French-speaking leader of the Belgian Socialist Party, Di Rupo is tipped as likely prime minister, having been a key figure in trying to resolve the crisis for months — albeit unsuccessfully.

But this week the pace quickened: caretaker prime minister Yves Leterme announced he was leaving the political stage later this year to take a job in Paris at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Belgium’s King Albert II — effectively the nation’s political mediator — rushed back from holiday to urge Di Rupo to try to resolve the crisis once more.

Leterme’s departure may be because he is fed up with the impasse: in his political career he tendered his resignation to the king no fewer than three times between July 2008 and the June 2010 election, having held a wobbly coalition together for just five months.

Before that, there was no effective government in Belgium for six months, and all because of the same linguistic rumpus over political boundaries which has plagued Belgium for years.

Di Rupo warned in the early hours that there are still many issues to be resolved before a new government is agreed — but at least the parties are negotiating.

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