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BRUSSELS - BELGIUM on Thursday snatched Iraq's dubious record as the country boasting the world's longest political crisis of recent times, an event to be cheekily marked by a 'chips revolution' honouring a favourite national dish.
The nation of 11 million people, home to both the European Union and Nato, hit 249 days of political deadlock after an election last June 13 that failed to produce an outright winner.
Already Europe's longest wait for a government - beating the Netherlands in 1977 at 208 days - Thursday sees Belgium out-performing Iraq, where Kurds and Shiite and Sunni Muslims struck a political pact late last year after 249 days, which in December, 40 days later, saw a government sworn in.
But a new government for Belgium is not even on the horizon, as politicians from the Dutch-speaking north and the French-speaking south continue to squabble over a coalition government deal.
In hopes of bringing the two sides to a deal, Belgian students have called a host of tongue-in-cheek events to mark the occasion.
After boycotts on sex and shaving, these include free French fries countrywide. -- AFP
If you want a politician's attention, hit 'em in the pants. That's the message from a Belgian senator who has urged legislators' spouses to go on a sex strike until their partners form a new coalition government.
Flemish parliamentarian Marleen Temmerman, a member of the Socialist Party, proposed prohibiting hanky-panky as a way to end the political deadlock that followed June's inconclusive election. Belgium has gone 242 days without a government, which means the nation is just seven days away from beating the previous world record held by Iraq.
With Belgium about to hit eight months without a government, Socialist politician Marleen Temmerman called on parliamentarians' spouses "to have no more sex until a new administration" is formed.This isn't the first unusual initiative intended to get parliamentarians talking. A Belgian comedian -- yes, they exist -- suggested that men should stop shaving until a coalition deal was signed. Sadly, the threat of an increasingly hirsute electorate didn't trigger a new round of negotiations.
So Temmerman decided to get personal and suggested that a political union might be best achieved through the denial of physical union. She asked party members' wives and girlfriends to "garder leurs jambes fermees" ("keep their legs closed"), Belgian news site Le Soir reported. And Temmerman -- who is also a respected gynecologist -- demanded that spouses of all genders "withhold sex until a deal is reached."
Sponsored LinksTemmerman says a similar initiative worked in Kenya in 2009, when women took a vow of chastity to defuse rising tensions between the president and prime minister's followers.
"Kenyan prostitutes were offered financial compensation if they showed sisterly solidarity and participated in the sex strike," she said. "The impact has never been scientifically proven, but after just one week there was a stable government."
Fans of the classics might also agree on the merits of a bonking ban. "Lysistrata," a play first performed in Greece around 400 B.C., relates how women from rival city-states agreed to abstain from sex until their men signed a peace treaty. Realizing that love and lust are more important than battle and bloodshed, the soldiers eventually put down their weapons and pick up their womenfolk..
The Belgian government has effectively collapsed.
The Flemish liberal party has pulled out of Yves Leterme’s coalition causing a political crisis just weeks before Belgium is due to take over the six-month EU presidency.
After holding an emergency Cabinet meeting Leterme tendered his government’s resignation
to King Albert who has not yet decided whether to accept it.
The liberal Open VLD party says it has lost faith in the government because it has failed to resolve a dispute between French and Dutch speaking parties over electoral boundaries around the capital.
The row centres on special rights which apply to French speakers in the Brussels Halle-Vilvorde suburbs where around 100,000 French speakers live.
The Liberals want the government to table a proposal to break-up Brussels and Halle-Vilvorde and put it to a parliamentary vote.
President of the Flemish Liberal Open VLD party Alexander de Croo said: “By withdrawing our confidence and asking for the proposal to break-up the BHV I want to impose maximum pressure and force everyone to accept their responsibilities in order to reach a definitive solution over the BHV issue.”
Flemish run communities on the outskirts of the capital have been trying to dissuade French speakers from moving in, largely by demanding they speak Dutch, enforcing stringent housing rules and seeking to suppress special voting rights.
Talks broke down without a deal prompting the Liberals to walk-out paralysing political activity..
A vote on banning the Islamic veil, has had to be postponed indefinitely until the political deadlock has been resolved.
Belgium will take over the six-month EU presidency in July, a role that allows member states to help drive policy. That role would be undermined if Belgium has a caretaker government or worse, no government at all.
That’s how long Belgium has now gone without a national government. For months, political parties from the Dutch-speaking north and French-speaking south have been trying to form some kind of coalition.
But no luck, so far — and it seems some Belgians have had enough.
This weekend, more than 30,000 Belgians marched through Brussels with a simple message for politicians — “Shame: No government, Great country.”
Julie Marlier and her boyfriend, Philippe Mathot, said they are tired of paying taxes to politicians who aren’t working.
“That’s our money that they’re spending every day,” Marlier said, “and without any results. That’s not normal.”
Mathot added, “They’re like children playing in a playground.”
The Shame rally started online as a Facebook page. In fact, the web has become the platform for Belgians to voice their political displeasure. Dutch-speaking radio journalist Kris Janssens recently posted a video to YouTube.
In it, he joked, “I don’t usually say much about Belgian politics, because I know it’s a sure way to kill the mood at any family gathering. But I just don’t get it anymore,” he continued. “Do these politicians have no shame?”
The video has garnered tens of thousands of views and comments.
Belgian actor Benoit Poelvoorde also got a lot of attention for a plea he recently made on television. “Don’t be surprised by this weird thing on my face,” he said, caressing his stubble. “A Hairy Belgium! Let’s keep our beards until Belgium gets back on its feet!”
A “Hairy Belgium” website quickly went up. More than 650 people have signed on to grow their beards until Belgium forms a government.
There is now a second beard-related website, called “A Beard for Belgium.”
Another site, called “Camping 16,” allows you to pitch a virtual tent in protest outside of the Prime Minister’s office in Brussels — located at “16″ Rue de la Loi.
Dorian van Bever, one of more than a dozen Belgians who worked on the Camping 16 website, said these websites crystallize feelings in real life, and permit people to say they’ve had enough.
“What do you do if you’ve paid for something that doesn’t work?” the site asks. “You get your money back,” it reads.
The intent is humorous, said van Bever, because humor cuts across the linguistic and cultural divides in Belgium. “We choose humor because we don’t want the streets to be on fire.”
Perhaps the funniest online effort, though, is a site called “le record du monde,” or the world record. On the site, you can watch the seconds tick down until Belgium surpasses Iraq’s record of 289 days without a government.
Graphic designer Sven Grothe, who helped put the site together, said he’s not making a political statement. “It’s more of joke,” he said. “It draws attention to the ridiculousness of the situation.”
If it all sounds surreal, well, that’s because it kind of is surreal.
Belgium’s strong local governments ensure that trash still gets picked up, police are still on the streets, and pensions are still paid. But the dysfunction at the national level has led some commentators to consider if Belgium might be “The World’s Most Successful Failed State.”
Marcel Sel, an author and columnist, pointed out that when you say “failed state” and then add “successful,” it’s a nice portrait of Belgium.
“It sounds surrealistic, but we Belgians like to think of ourselves as being surrealistic people.” He said it’s a clever way to put things, though he added that Belgium is not a failed country — “not yet,” he laughed.
Websites and real world rallies aside, no one expects an end to the political stalemate anytime soon. Sel said he would not be surprised if Belgium beats Iraq’s world record by a wide margin, and, he jokes that if the “grow a beard for Belgium” campaign catches on, Brussels may soon more like Kandahar.
Originally posted by Billmeister
To my perspective this is more an example of how, for the most part, useless parliament really is. I mean, life as the Belgians know it has continued right? Granted no new laws can be enacted, but how bad can that really be?
At least no war can be declared!
Here in Canada, government was prorogued (put on hold) during the 2010 winter olympics, and guess what... life as we know it carried on just nicely.
Perhaps government should be a part-time job, and the salaries should be adjusted in kind.