Belgium’s government formation could be faster than expected

Following Sunday's elections, the nationalist party N-VA, somewhat against expectations, once again leads in Flanders. In Wallonia, meanwhile, there has been a historic shift from left to centre-right. A quick government formation thus seems well within reach. 

Socialists PS, traditionally the leading party in Wallonia, have been replaced by liberals MR. This significant shift, combined with a less fragmented political landscape in Flanders due to the loss of votes for Groen and Open VLD and the gains by Vooruit, may make government formation at the federal level easier than expected. 

The new federal government need not be one of seven or eight parties. The most logical combination is N-VA - the country's largest party - with MR, Les Engagés and Vooruit. That coalition is workable - party leaders Georges-Louis Bouchez (MR) and Maxime Prévot (Les Engagés) have both already indicated they are open to negotiating with N-VA, while Vooruit has ideologically shifted to the right and could therefore reach agreement with N-VA.

Only one additional party would then be needed for a majority government. This would likely be Flemish Christian democrats CD&V, who have lost one seat, but compared to previous coalition colleagues Open VLD and Groen have held up reasonably well.

That five-party coalition could be formed fairly quickly and would allow N-VA leader Bart De Wever to fulfil his promise to put together a crisis government that could clean up the public budget promptly. It will, however, be insufficient if N-VA remains committed to state reform, which requires a two-thirds majority.

Even if PS were to join the coalition - it has said it will go into opposition at all levels - the government would still be two seats short. Liberals Open VLD will then have to be considered, which may not be popular with voters. 

What is certain is that N-VA will be crucial in the formation of the Flemish and federal government, and that ideological families may have to split up: Vooruit is possibly going to have to cut off PS, while MR might have to break away from Open VLD. In that event, formation could suddenly move very quickly.


N-VA leader Bart De Wever at the N-VA party bureau offices the day after the elections © BELGA PHOTO DIRK WAEM

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