Update: New Belgian Government, finally, on December 6, 2011
On February 17th Belgium set the dubious record of its 249th day without any government. There is some dispute over whether Iraq has the record with 289 days–but few Belgians deny that they will set the record because not only does Belgium not have a government but it has no prospects for any kind of national government whatsoever. In fact, in contrast to the recent protests over tyrannical governments in the Middle East and North Africa, Belgians are protesting because they want a government to begin with  .
This is a strange complaint to have. Most nations take governments for granted. In an executive democracy like the United States, threats of such a period without governments have been rare. In 1801 there was a threat of deadlock because of the tie between Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr. In 1876 and 2000 there was the problem of votes in certain states (including Florida both times) lacking legitimacy. Where there is a multiparty parliamentary democracy, though, it is often necessary to build coalitions in order to achieve the working majority needed to function.
In some countries (like Israel and Italy) this can be a real challenge. Minor parties with one issue are necessary to achieve a working majority and they can ensure that they get a nice ministry portfolio or achieve their campaign aims in order to vote with the coalition. This sort of evil is present with any kind of coalition government but is a small price to pay for having a functioning government. In Belgium, however, there appears to be insufficient desire for national unity for a coalition to build at all, making the nation a laughingstock of the world (any nation whose ability to govern itself is less than Iraq ought to reflect deeply).
Suggestions for resolving the deadlock in Belgium range from the humorous (suggesting that no Belgian MP’s be permitted have sex until they can form a coalition) to the serious (allowing a secession between Flanders and Walloon, whose regional hostilities have grown in recent years to such an extent that no national government can be formed between the two sections. So far at least Belgians have not been affected in their daily lives because there is so much federalism that the workings of the bureaucracy are handled by local governments. However, the disengagement and apathy towards government by most Belgians suggests that Belgians lack a genuine sense of nationhood. This is a serious problem–without a common identity one has no reason to stay together.
In fact, Belgians have made a joke of their lack of a government, showing their competition with Iraq and the Ivory Coast for the most ineffective government of all time in a dryly humorous website . But all joking aside, this is a serious problem. Election returns from the 2010 General Election look like the 1860 U.S. Election–regional parties in control with no national party to provide a rallying point to stay together . We all know what happened after the 1860 U.S. Election. The fact that the “winning” party in the inconclusive elections was a Separatist Flemish party does not make matters any easier.
So what are the likely results? For now, it looks like more muddling for Belgium, but eventually there will come a time when hard choices about the future of Belgium have to be answered–whether they desire to be a nation at all, or split into their two cultural sections, another multicultural democracy done in by the pressures of secession. In these times it appears as if man has lost the capacity to even pretend he can govern himself or others.
Update: December 11, 2011
A few days ago, on December 7, a new Belgian government was sworn in. It was led by openly homosexual Walloon Socialist Elio di Rupo and excludes the party that one the election, the pro-independence New Flemish Alliance (N-VA), lacking a majority of the Dutch-language side of Belgium. For both moral and political reasons, therefore, the new government lacks legitimacy and is likely to further Belgium’s political malaise.