Belgium still without a government

8 May 2011

The following may be a sort of question that comes up in a pub quiz: which country currently holds the record for the longest period between a general election and the formation of a new government based on that result? The answer used to be Iraq, riven asunder by dictatorship, invasion, civil war, political impasse, but now the place has been taken over by a quiet and unassuming European country. A country, some would say, whose most famous person is a fictional character created by Agatha Christie, and whose symbol is a diminutive statuette urinating in public. Yes, Belgium. Many Belgians seem fed up with the politicians’ inability to come up a solution: at a protest held back in January, one placard read, we want beer, chips and a government. (BBC: Belgian ‘Shame’ march demands unity and government)

There have been many attempts at forming a new government since the elections on 13 June 2010, and a number of politicians were named as intermediaries to get the numerous parties on board, but none has succeeded. The outgoing government has been functioning in a caretaker capacity, far longer than the same government lasted as a proper government. The process has gone on for too long, yet no one seems prepared to budge. And the situation sets to continue like this, as there are no immediate or obvious ways out of the stalemate.