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Despite Right-wing Appeal, Graft Scandal, Belgians Vote for Status Quo

May 21, 1995

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) _ Despite a bitter corruption scandal and a push by extreme right-wing parties, Belgium’s center-left government held its ground in national voting Sunday, winning a projected 81 of the 150 legislative seats.

Incomplete results showed the far right, which made big inroads in recent years, failing to make major gains.

The extreme right-wing Vlaams Blok _ which espouses expelling North African immigrants to fight rising crime _ was forecast to retain its 10 seats in the national legislature. Its francophone Front Nationale counterpart was projected to go from one to two seats.

The opposition Conservatives also advanced, but were unlikely to break into government.

Sunday’s vote by the 7.2 million-strong electorate followed revelations that Prime Minister Jean-Luc Dehaene’s Socialist coalition partners pocketed kickbacks in 1988 in return for a defense contract. Four Socialist ministers have been forced to resign in the past two years.

The issue has overshadowed the government’s battle against huge debts, high unemployment and increasingly costly social services.

Because Belgium is divided into Dutch-speaking Flanders in the north and French-speaking Wallonia in the south, the major parties also are split by language.

The Dutch-speaking Socialists went from 18 to 21 seats despite the scandal. Their gain was undone by a projected loss of three seats for the French-speaking Socialists who sank to 20 seats.

Incomplete results showed Dehaene’s Dutch-speaking Christian Democrats winning 28 seats, up one, but his francophone sister party losing one seat, dropping to 12.

The opposition Conservatives were expected to gain two seats to reach 37 overall with the Greens staying at 13. Small parties took the remaining seats.

By tradition, Deheane will offer his government’s resignation to King Albert on Monday. The monarch is expected to ask him to form a new government.

This would pave the way for the Belgian leader to continue in office with a center-left alliance that has embarked on an ambitious austerity program, including a freezing of wages until at least the end of 1996.

Dehaene’s four-party coalition held 120 of 212 seats in the outgoing House of Representatives. Following a constitutional revision, the legislature was reduced to 150 seats.

And, in a first, Flanders and Wallonia also directly elected their own semi-autonomous regional parliaments.

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