Belgium is a constitutional, representative, and hereditary monarchy. Succession to the throne is determined by primogeniture. The present ruler is King Albert II, who came to the throne in 1993. The Belgian constitution was promulgated in 1831 and revised in 1893, 1921, 1970, 1971, 1980, 1989, 1993, and 2001. The reforms of the 1970s and afterward gradually transformed Belgium into a federal state, giving the majority of essential governmental powers to the three regions: Flanders, Wallonia, and Brussels.
Executive power is vested in the king, who appoints the prime minister, cabinet ministers, and judges. The king is commander in chief of the armed forces and, with the approval of parliament, has the power to declare war and conclude treaties. The rights of the king, according to the constitution, include convening and dissolving parliament, conferring titles of nobility, and granting pardons. All royal acts, however, must be countersigned by a minister, who in turn assumes responsibility for those acts before parliament. Inasmuch as the ministers are responsible to parliament, the king must choose a cabinet that represents a majority in parliament. Cabinets are generally multiparty coalitions.
Under constitutional changes that took effect with the parliamentary elections of 1995, both houses of the Belgian parliament were reduced in size. The Senate was scaled back from 184 members to 71, while the Chamber of Representatives dropped from 212 members to 150. All members of the Chamber of Representatives are directly elected, while the Senate’s membership is elected through a combination of direct and indirect methods. All citizens more than 18 years of age are required to vote in parliamentary elections and may be fined for not doing so.
The three major political alliances, each consisting of Dutch- and French-speaking units, are the Christian Democrat parties (1945), the Socialist parties (1885), and the Liberal parties, including the Flemish Liberals and Democrats-Citizens’ Party (Dutch, 1961) and the Liberal Reformation Party (French, 1979). There are many minor parties. "Belgium" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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