Belgium’s king Albert II is muscling his way into the attempts to form a new government in the country, 156 days after the general election was held. While the usual process is for the king only to appoint one person to secure an alliance among parties strong enough to form a government that will have a majority in the new parliament (who usually also becomes Prime minister), and then counter-sign all decisions, the king has now started inviting the fighting sides to outright negotiations at his own table.
People with a more detailed insight into the Belgian constitution will have to decide when and if the king will overstep the line, but it is in any case becoming increasingly clear that he is slowly taking over from the man appointed to the job, Yves Leterme. The picture is compunded by the fact that Mr Leterme has not only failed completely once – before the last few weeks’ total chaos, that is – but also by the fact that Mr Leterme is genuinely impopular as a Prime minister candidate. A majority of the Belgians do not support him in that role, largely because he is so unpopular in the French-speaking Wallonia district, which in turn is much because of his outspoken Flemish interest views.
However, Mr Leterme’s seeming inability to reconcile the different points of view in the current crisis – in much due to his inflexibility on Flemish issues – has led many to start thinking that he is not the right man to unite the vastly diversified Belgium under his leadership for a full government period, either. Now, the king’s inteventions are further undermining Mr Leterme’s position, and Mr Leterme is starting to look like a lame duck.
As for the king’s efforts, though, it seems that even all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put the government back together again. Shrouded in secrecy, the strategy appears to have been to form a coalition government including the Socialists, who would otherwise have been left out, and lift the deal-breaking issues from the formation attempts so far (on how to share powers between the different layers of society) into a “council of wise men”. This strategy is looking fairly hopeless at the moment, though, as the Socialists have flatly rejected to step into a government to save their political opponents of the embarrasment of failing to form a government, and the two leading Flemish parties, the “nationalist lite” N-VA and Mr Leterme’s Christian Democrat CD&V, are as reluctant as ever to form a government without the state reform issues on its agenda.
De Standaard today openly claims that the king cannot save the proposed government, either. The question is, then: Who can?