|A protest against the lack of action to form a government in Belgium|
Between 2010 and 2011, Belgium spent 589 days without an elected government. During this time, they broke the world record for the longest time for a democratic country to go without an elected government, overtaking Cambodia’s record of 353 days set in 2003 to 2004.
The general election on the 13th June 2010 produced fragmented results where 12 different parties were elected to the Belgian Chamber of Representatives from 11 electoral districts. None of these parties had more than 20% of seats. The largest party (the Flemish Separatist Party) controlled only 27 out of 150 seats in the chamber. The next biggest party controlled 26 seats. Therefore, a complex coalition had to be formed to create a majority government. But, the deep division between the Flemish community in the north and the poorer Walloons in the south, made this impossible. The opposing groups were unable to agree on policy issues and form a coalition. Negotiations between all the parties quickly became repetitive and then deadlocked. However, a new election was not called as it was believed that this would produce either exactly the same results or a significant rise in the popularity of populist parties.
During this period, a caretaker government was put in charge to deal with the day-to-day running of the country. It was led by the former Prime Minister, Yves Leterme. A government of this kind is not allowed to implement any major changes, as there is no majority to vote them in – only urgent policy changes or small alterations are allowed. So, in this case, ordinary Belgians noticed few differences in their lives. There were some benefits, however, as the economy continued to grow, exports increased, Belgium contributed to the NATO bombing of Libya and trains were more often on time than previously. Nevertheless, a caretaker government creates some long-term risks. For example, in 2011 Belgium’s debt was 96% of the country’s GDP, and the caretaker government could do nothing to control the situation, so it just got worse. At this time, a survey by GfK found that 57% of Belgians listed the political situation as their most important worry.