Belgium - Political parties

Political parties in Belgium are organized along ethnolinguistic lines, with each group in Flanders having its Walloon counterpart. The three major political alliances are the Christian Social parties, consisting of the Parti Social Chrétien (PSC) and the Christelijke Volkspartij (CVP); the Socialist parties, the Parti Socialiste (PS) and Socialistische Partij (SP); and the Liberal parties, Parti Réformateur et Liberal (PRL) and Flemish Liberal Democrats (VLD). The People's Union (Volksunie, or VU) was the Flemish nationalistic party, while the French-speaking Democratic Front (Front Démocratique des Francophones—FDF) affirms the rights of the French-speaking population of Brussels. The Flemish Block (Vlaams Blok—VB) is separatist and antiforeigner while the much smaller far-right National Front (Front Nationale—FN) is openly racist and xenophobic. In 2001, the CVP was renamed the Christian Democratic and Flemish Party (CD and V); the SP was renamed the Social Progressive Alternative Party, or SP.A; and the VU split into two parts—the conservative wing established the New Flemish Alliance (NVA), and the left-liberal wing became the Spirit Party. Agalev is the Flemish Green Party, and Ecolo represents francophone Greens. In 2002, the PSC was renamed the Democratic Humanistic Center (CDH), and the PRL, FDF, and the MCC or Movement of Citizens for Change (created in 1998 by a former leader of the francophone Christian Democrats), formed a new alliance called the Reform Movement (MR). Although these changes in parties' names and new groupings have taken place in the last few years, the Belgian political landscape has not been seriously reorganized.

Following the 13 June 1999 election, party strength in the Chamber of Representatives was as follows: CVP, 14.1% (22 seats); PS, 10.1% (19 seats); SP, 9.6% (14 seats); VLD, 14.31% (23 seats); PRL, 10.1% (18 seats); PSC, 5.9% (10 seats); VB, 9.9% (15 seats); VU, 5.6% (8 seats); ECOLO, 7.3% (11 seats); AGALEV, 7.0% (9 seats); FN 1.5% (1 seat) (150 total seats).

The 1999 election ended the political career of Prime Minister Jean-Luc Dehaene, the Flemish Christian Democrat who led a center-left coalition of francophone and Flemish socialists and his francophone Christian Democratic Party throughout the 1990s. Six parties (French-speaking and Dutch-speaking branches of the Liberal, Socialist, and Green parties) reached a core agreement only three weeks after the election on forming a "blue-red-green" coalition government. It was Belgium's first government in 40 years not to include the Christian Democrats, the first to include the Greens, and the first since 1884 to be led by a Liberal prime minister (Guy Verhofstadt).

The presence of the Greens means a commitment to a progressive withdrawal from nuclear energy, starting with gradual decommissioning of nuclear power stations more than 40 years old. However, the Greens were dealt a setback in the 2003 elections. In the 18 May 2003 elections, the party strength was distributed as follows: VLD, 15.4% (25 seats); SP.A-Spirit, 14.9% (23 seats); CD and V, 13.2% (21 seats); PS, 13% (25 seats); VB, 11.6% (18 seats); MR, 11.4% (24 seats); CDH, 5.5% (8 seats); N-VA, 3.1% (1 seat); Ecolo, 3.1% (4 seats); Agalev, 2.5%, no seats; FN, 2%, (1 seat), and Vivant (Alive), a human rights party, took 1.2% of the vote but secured no seats. Verhofstadt was expected to form a center-left coalition government.

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