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Belgium has problems far worse than anything we have to bother about here. For a start they have a messy linguistic situation. Dutch-speaking Flanders has the largest part of the population and is more prosperous than French-speaking Wallonia, which has run-down old heavy industries. Technically bilingual Brussels is actually predominantly French-speaking, but is completely surrounded by Flanders. Mind you, the commune of Sint-Genesius-Rode, the only piece of territory separating the Brussels Capital Region from Wallonia, though officially Dutch-speaking (with a protected French-speaking minority), actually has a French-speaking majority. The Flemish are reluctant to give up any territory and want to have Brussels as their capital. The German-speaking area in the east is too small to be of any great importance and is generally regarded as part of Wallonia, although these days it is getting more interested in its separate identity.
With all these problems, there is a plethora of democratic institutions – there are elections in communes (towns and villages), provinces (rather like French departments), regions (there is a federal structure) and language communities (whose geographical boundaries are not the same as those of the regions), as well as at the federal level (lower house and Senate) and, of course, for the European Parliament. Not all of the assemblies are directly elected, no doubt a relief for the country's citizens!
I shall concentrate on the elections for the federal lower house. In a distant past there was a two-party system, like the one we think we still have here, although I am not so sure we do. However, long ago the major parties split into separate Flemish and Walloon parties, so that now there are nine parties with a serious chance of participating in coalitions – two lots each of Christian Democrats, Socialists, Liberals and Greens, with the remaining one being the mainstream Flemish separatists, the N-VA. Now, as it happens, the N-VA are the largest party in the lower house and so are involved in the current coalition, despite wanting to see the dissolution of the federation. Think a coalition dominated by the Scot. Nats. The parallel is not exact, but it gives you an idea of the difficulty of governing the country.
Given that there are so many parties, some kind of proportional representation is required. The basic system is quite simple. It is a straightforward party-list system with seats allocated by the widely used D'Hondt method. Not surprisingly, D'Hondt was a Belgian. However, you cannot expect the Belgians to leave it at that. As well as voting for a party list, you can cast a preference vote for an individual. This must be for someone on the list for which you have voted, or a substitute – the lists have more people on them than there are seats to fill, so as to be able to replace anyone who drops out, perhaps because of illness or a scandal. The preference vote determines the position of the candidate/substitute on the list, so that the party administrations do not have an absolute say in who gets elected first.
Aren't you glad you live here?