Feuding parties in linguistically-divided Belgium are gearing up for a showdown at the ballot box on Sunday.
Opinion polls predict the big winner in the parliamentary election will be the Flemish N-VA which advocates the gradual disappearance of the country.
For now, though, its leader Bart De Wever wants Belgium to become a confederation of semi-independent regions.
So are the N-VA separatists?
“Separatists, in the meaning that we want to split up this country overnight, no,” said De Wever.
“We have never talked about a revolution, always about an evolution. If you know the history of our country, you see that this evolution has already been taking place since more than 100 years. We have already had five great state reforms, going from a unitary country to a sort of federalist country. Now we want to evolve to a confederalist country, so what we are saying is the logical next step in an evolution at a long term.”
The Socialists are likely to win the most votes from Belgium’s minority French speakers and could become the biggest challenger to the N-VA. As the election campaign reaches its climax, one of the Socialists’ rising stars was all smiles as he gave a radio interview. But Paul Magnette had harsh words for his Flemish chief rivals, when he spoke to euronews about the inevitable post-election horse- trading.
“We know that this party has ideas that are incompatible with those of a large number of moderate parties,” said Magnette.
“But even if you add up all the votes of nationalist and separatist parties, you get a maximum of one voter in four on a national scale, which means that the other parties are still in a position to make deals, between moderate and sensible people.”
The Belgian government collapsed in April amid a stand-off between French and Dutch speaking parties. That was sparked by a clash over electoral boundaries in and around Brussels. It is a thorny issue that still needs to be resolved by the next administration.