The center-right coalition of Belgian Prime Minister Wilfried Martens won a comfortable victory today in national elections, defeating a challenge by socialist parties of the government's economic austerity policies.
With more than 90 percent of the nation's 3,666 voting precincts reporting, the Interior Ministry projected that Martens' four-party coalition of Liberals and Christian Democrats had gained two additional seats in the key Chamber of Deputies, enabling the coalition to form a new government.
Martens' Christian Peoples' Party made a surprisingly strong showing, winning six new seats to make up for losses by one coalition partner, the Flemish Liberal Party.
The opposition Flemish Socialist Party, whose leaders had campaigned for strong government intervention to boost the economy and removal of NATO cruise nuclear missiles deployed in Belgium last March, made expected gains, winning about six new seats.
The French-speaking Socialist Party, however, was unable to increase its total of 35 deputies in the 212-seat body, the results showed.
The returns also revealed significant losses among some of the limited-interest parties that are outside the government. But the country's two leftist Green parties both won new seats.
The main issue of the elections has been the state of the economy. The Socialists have focused on the unemployment rate, which at 13.7 percent is the second highest in the European Community.
The issue of immigrant policy, important in Brussels, was addressed by several candidates.