Flemish nationalists to retain lead in Belgian parliament, far right gains

By Philip Blenkinsop and Charlotte Van Campenhout

BRUSSELS (Reuters) -Flemish nationalist party N-VA (New Flemish Alliance) was on course to remain the largest party in Belgium's parliament on Sunday, holding off a bigger rise of far-right party Vlaams Belang (Flemish interest) which made the biggest gain.

The Flemish liberals of Prime Minister Alexander De Croo slumped, while the French-speaking liberal party Mouvement Reformateur was the biggest in Brussels and French-speaking Wallonia, setting the country on course for months of challenging coalition talks.

"This is an extremely hard evening for us. We have lost this election", De Croo said, adding he would take full responsibility for the loss.

N-VA appeared to have held off gains by Vlaams Belang, which has anti-immigrant policies and wants to split up Belgium. Before the election, opinion polls had forecast Vlaams Belang would be the victor in the Dutch-speaking north of the country.

“Friends, we have won these elections,” N-VA leader Bart De Wever told his supporters. "And admit it: you didn't expect that. The polls were bad, the comments in the press were damning, but you never gave up."

The Belgian vote coincided with elections to the EU parliament, in which the far-right also made the biggest gains, preliminary results showed.

With over 90% of the vote counted, N-VA had a clear lead over Vlaams Belang, with De Croo's party dropping to the ninth place, partial results published on the interior ministry website showed.

Neither N-VA nor Vlaams Belang is part of the current seven-party governing coalition.


Over the coming months, talks will seek to forge a governing coalition between the largely right-of-centre parties of the Dutch-speaking north, and the more left-leaning parties of the French-speaking south.

Indeed, Belgium holds the world record for longest government formation, taking 541 days in 2010-2011.

"Government formations in Belgium always take a long time and that is the expectation again now", said Carl Devos, a politics professor at Ghent University.

De Croo's government will stay on in a caretaker capacity.

(Reporting by Charlotte Van Campenhout and Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by David Holmes and Lisa Shumaker)