Flemish separatists win big in Belgian elections

Belgium's largest party advocates dissolving the country to solve cultural differences.

311_flemish election (photo credit: Associated Press)
311_flemish election
(photo credit: Associated Press)
BRUSSELS — Voters sent a stunning message to the Belgian political establishment in the general elections on Sunday, giving a strong victory to a Flemish separatist party that wants to end years of disputes between Dutch and French-speakers or break up Belgium.
The New Flemish Alliance on Sunday shook up Belgium's hidebound political scene, winning 27 seats, up 19 from the 2007 elections, to become Belgium's biggest party.
Its win was a withering report card on Premier Yves Leterme's outgoing coalition of Christian Democrats, Liberals and Socialists — split into Dutch- and French-speaking factions — whose three years in office were marked by enduring linguistic spats that remained unresolved.
The election outcome was seen as a warning to Francophone politicians to negotiate seriously about granting Dutch- and French-speakers more self-rule, or Dutch-speaking Flanders will bolt.
The reaction in Wallonia was one of shock.
The daily Le Soir said "Flanders has chosen a new king," referring to Bart De Wever, 39, leader of the New Flemish Alliance who urged "Francophones to make (a country) that works."
De Wever seeks an orderly breakup of Belgium. His party accuses Wallonia, Belgium's poorer, southern half, of bad governance that has raised the jobless rate to double that of Flanders, the Dutch-speaking north.
On Monday, King Albert is expected to start one-on-one meetings with political leaders to see who should form a new government.
If he becomes premier of Belgium, De Wever will head a coalition government which will force him to tone down his independence talk and negotiate for more regional self rule within Belgium.
True to tradition, the big winners in Wallonia were the Socialists who won 26 seats, up six. Their leader, Elio di Rupo, also a would-be premier, said, "Many Flemish people want the country's institutions reformed. We need to listen to that."