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Taking a look upon how legislative bodies are split between parties within Europe I have noticed that Belgium has a legislative body containing numerous political parties without one or two clearly dominating it (first two have less than 35%).

However most of other legislative bodies have some clear parties dominating them (typically two parties have more than 50%). E.g.: Andorra, Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Denmark, Greece.

This makes me wonder if there is something special with Belgium politics that favors such diversity and power equilibrium in its legislative body.

Question: Why does Belgium seem to have a more diverse legislative body that other EU countries?

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My main guess would be at the division between Flemish speaking and French speaking regions means that each region creates its own political ecosystem. If you consider it that way, then the results are not that different.

Flemish parties:

  • N-VA 17,4%

  • CD&V 10,9%

  • Open VLD 8,6%

  • Sp.A 9,2%

  • GROEN 4,4%

  • VB 7,8%

  • LDD 2,3%

Total for Flemish Parties 60.6%

If you normalize the numbers, you get that N-VA and CD&V combined get 46,7% of the vote.

French speaking parties:

  • PS 13,7%

  • MR 9,3%

  • CDH 5,5%

  • Ecolo 4,8%

  • PP 1,3%

  • PTB-PvdA 1,9%

Total for French speaking parties 36,5%

If you normalize the numbers, you get that PS and MR combined get a 63% of the vote.

Thus putting Belgium more in line with other countries.

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SJuan's answer is mostly correct, but I'd like to add two points:

Compulsory voting

Belgium has compulsory voting, which means many more moderate votes will be spread across the spectrum. These are given by people that don't feel very strongly about politics, but still give a vote. Many of these people are completely undecided about what party to vote for (all votes for each election are only valid when cast on a single party/list) and many pick something at random when they're in the voting booth.

Multiple parties with partially overlapping programs combined with a surprising lack of contentious subjects

While most Belgians won't admit it, there are little to no really divisive topics at the level of Flanders or Waloonia compared to other countries. Even at a federal level, some of the larger issues in other countries such as euthanasia, abortions, gun control, religion, LGBT rights, EU support, ideas about climate change and the likes, have quite clear majorities in a specific direction. Even on less clear stances such as social security, the differences across parties are extremely small compared to countries such as the Netherlands/Germany/France. Tensions between the two main regions tend to rise when there's not much else in the news, but while divisive, they're fed by vocal minorities and people realize this.

This lack of contention on major subjects means that votes are decided on smaller issues. This is where parties tend to overlap more, so when a person votes based on one of the few remaining issues, there's always a whole plethora of parties taking a stance across the whole spectrum. This causes even people voting the same way on the same issue to not always end up at the same party.

  • First of all, could you give a scource for your statement that many people pick something random when they're in the voting booth? Second, stating that there are few differences between flanders and waloonia isn't correct. It's true that belgium is a progressive country with many points of agreement that are problematic in other countries, but belgium has a buch of problems that other countries don't have, For example confederalism and especially the difference between a liberal, central north and a heavily socialistic south. The difference is that belgium compromises need to function at all. – Lovapa May 1 at 15:34
  • @Lovapa Sure: vrt.be/vrtnws/nl/2014/05/25/… Belgium is still not a confederation and has no majority support to become one in either region. Sure, there are differences and unique federal problems, but if vocal minorities screaming Belgium doesn't work are ignored, it's quite clear that both sides of the isle are prepared to go for needed compromises. – DonFusili May 2 at 8:25
  • @Lovapa Also, the framing of Waloonia as "heavily socialist" is slightly suspect, considering the MR had 2% less votes than the PS in 2014 (6% if only taking into account only Waloonia, for a relative difference of about 20%). If anything, Flanders is less center than Waloonia with the Flemish left being completely demolished in those same elections. – DonFusili May 2 at 8:29
  • First of all, the article states clearly that the people did not have made up their mind yet while entering the booth, that is not the same as picking something random. Second of all, I never said belgium was an confederal state, I said it had confederal problems. Third of all, in the last polls the 2 biggest socialistic parties get combined almost 40%, ans if we count socialistic leaning, that number goes up to 61.5%. And if we look at the extreem parties, in walloonia the biggest extreem party alone scored 14.8%., while in flanders, the biggest party scores only 9.8%. Poll vrt. – Lovapa May 2 at 23:51
  • @Lovapa Heh, seems we disagree on the interpretation of both random, extreme and socialist leaning. From where I'm standing, none of the supposed problems keep the country from running rather smoothly, so I'm not changing the answer. Feel free to downvote it :-) – DonFusili May 3 at 8:08

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