Election 2014: Belgium decides

The people of Belgium go to the polls today in the biggest election operation ever staged in this country. Belgians are electing a new federal parliament as well as the country's devolved assemblies. Voters in northern Belgium and Brussels will be able to cast their vote for a new Flemish parliament. A new Brussels parliament, Walloon parliament and Germanophone parliament are also being elected too. EU citizens who have registered will join Belgians in electing 21 members for the European Parliament.
BELGA/JANSENS

Voting in Belgium is compulsory and everybody aged 18 or over is legally required to attend a polling place. All legislators will be elected using a system of proportional representation. Political parties field lists of candidates allowing voters to express a preference within a particular list. You can vote for different parties for different elections, but must stay with one party list for each separate election.

All 150 seats in the chamber of representatives, the lower house of Belgium's federal parliament are up for grabs. The parliament is the powerbase of Belgium's federal state and any new federal government will require a majority here.

A majority among Flemish and Francophone lawmakers is handy, but this is no legal requirement. The outgoing federal administration did not have a majority among Flemish lawmakers. The senate, the upper house of parliament, is no longer being directly elected as a result of the latest state reforms that also devolve new powers to Belgium's regions and communities.

Today's election will be crucial for the survival of Flemish premier Kris Peeters's three-party coalition government of Christian democrats, socialists and Flemish nationalists. The people of Flanders are electing a new Flemish parliament that as a result of the latest instalment of state reforms will enjoy even more powers. Voters in the capital too can decide to cast their vote for the Flemish parliament.

The last election for this body dates from 2009 and Bart De Wever's Flemish nationalists are expected to make seismic gains in the election for this assembly. Will Premier Peeters be able to stay in the job even if his Christian democrat party comes home well behind the nationalists? Will the nationalists insist on the top job for themselves and will they be able to remain in coalition with the socialists following a particularly fractious election campaign? Or is Flanders heading for a right-leaning coalition with the liberals? flandersnews will keep you posted.

The people of Brussels are electing a new Brussels regional parliament. 72 seats are set aside for Francophones, 17 for Flemings. As in all the elections being held today no party is expected to win outright. Any coalition government here will require a majority in both language groups.

Today's election will also decide who will represent Belgium in the European parliament: 21 seats are up for grabs. Voters in northern Belgium will elect 12 MEPs; people in southern Belgium a further 8. EU citizens and Belgians in Brussels decide for themselves which constituency they vote for. The remaining seat is set aside to represent Belgium's tiny Germanophone minority, some 70,000 well-represented souls.

Will Federal PM Elio Di Rupo be able to stay in the job and continue in power at the head of the outgoing six-party coalition? Will voters shuffle the cards in such a way that a different coalition is able to take over? What will be the outcome of the government formation procedure and will Bart De Wever's Flemish nationalists be able to translate their predicted advance in power in government? How long will the government formation process take? For the answers to these question and more, watch this space!