Who to watch in Belgium elections

Who to watch in Belgium elections

BRUSSELS - Belgium goes into national and regional elections Sunday as culturally and politically divided as ever between its Flemish-speaking north and French-language south.

The outcome turns largely on how four main personalities fare because they are key to future talks on forming a new coalition government.

After the 2010 elections, it took a world record 500 days and more for the politicians to finally find enough common ground to form a government. Here are the major players:

Elio Di Rupo, outgoing prime minister

At 62, the Francophone Socialist Di Rupo took office in December 2011 and is widely credited with holding the coalition government together through a very damaging economic slump and subsequent eurozone debt crisis.

Campaigning hard to continue as premier, Di Rupo's government pushed through painful savings of 22 billion euros (S$37 billion) in an effort to stabilise Belgium's strained public finances. Di Rupo tried to limit the pain of the austerity policies for the least well-off but cuts to unemployment benefits were unpopular and could see the extreme left PTB party take votes from his Socialists in the south. On the right, the immediate danger comes from the centre-right Liberal Movement for Reform (MR), which includes his foreign minister Didier Reynders.

Di Rupo is a fervent federalist, committed to a united Belgium, and strongly opposed to the neo-Liberal and separatist New Flemish Alliance party (N-VA) of Bart De Wever.

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