Nationalists win in Belgium
Brussels - Belgians awoke on Monday to confirmation of the news that the Dutch-speaking nationalist party N-VA has won a crushing victory in snap elections, raising fears that months of political instability will follow.
N-VA's victory in the northern province of Flanders was matched by sweeping gains by the Socialist Party (PS) in the southern, French-speaking province of Wallonia.
Conflict over power-sharing between the two provinces had brought down the last government in April, a year before its term.
The two political parties have opposing views on many points of policy, but are now expected to start coalition talks.
"The cannibal: N-VA eats classical parties up, doomed to work with (PS leader) Elio Di Rupo," the Dutch-language daily Het Laatste Nieuws proclaimed.
Long-lasting, complex talks
Final results from the national electoral commission released in Monday's early hours showed that the N-VA had garnered 17.4% of the national vote, almost 4 points clear of the PS (13.7%) and far ahead of its main Flemish rival CD&V (10.85%).
N-VA's share of seats in the 150-member parliament surged to 27, up from eight after the last elections in 2007. The PS, meanwhile, snagged 26 seats, up from 20.
The two parties jointly hold more than a third of the parliament, making it widely assumed that they will have to conduct coalition talks.
N-VA leader Bart De Wever and Di Rupo "hold the fate of Belgium in their hands," said Beatrice Delvaux, chief editor of the French- language daily Le Soir.
The talks are widely expected to be complex and long-lasting.
Time, however, is critical: Belgium is set to take over the European Union's rotating presidency on July 1, leaving just two weeks for the negotiations if the country is to avoid taking the EU's helm with a caretaker administration.
The two parties' gains were matched by declines in support for all the other main parties, with French- and Dutch-speaking conservatives and liberals alike suffering losses.
The night also brought a heavy defeat for the Flemish far-right and Islamophobe party Vlaams Belang, which saw its popularity slump from 11.99% to 7.76%.