A Flemish party which advocates the gradual dissolution of Belgium has won the most seats in the country's general election.
The New Flemish Alliance (N-VA), whose ultimate aim is independence for Flanders, the northern part of the country, took 27 out of 150 seats in Sunday's vote.
The Socialist party from Wallonia, the French-speaking southern part of Belgium, won 26 seats.
After the country's last election in 2007, the formation of a new government took more than six months, in large part due to tensions between the two regions centred around language and the allocation of public resources.
Bart De Wever, the chairman of the N-VA, and other party leaders held talks with King Albert, the country's head of state, on Monday to decide who should form the next government.
De Wever, 39, said the country could not afford months of political instability and that the new government must curb runaway spending.
He said the way forward for Belgium depended on the willingness of its four million French speakers to accept more self rule for Flanders and Wallonia.
No national parties
Voting is obligatory in the country of 10.5 million people where no political party operates nationally.
The electoral system - effectively two elections with separate parties seeking votes from the majority of Flemish and those of French-speaking voters - means at least four parties will be needed to form a governing coalition.
"We did a study of 10,000 people and found 84 per cent want the country reformed, but not broken apart."
Marianne Thyssen, Christian Democrat
Sunday's elections were called one year early, after the five-party coalition of Yves Leterme, the prime minister, fell apart on April 26 in a dispute over a bilingual voting district.
Leterme's Christian Democrats picked up 17 seats in the election.
While the April spat helped increase support for the N-VA, many people in Belgium say they favour more self-rule for the country's different language regions, but no division.
"We did a study of 10,000 people and found 84 per cent want the country reformed, but not broken apart,'' the Associated Press news agency quoted Marianne Thyssen, a Dutch-speaking Christian Democrat, as saying.
Strict language rules determine which language is used in Belgium on everything from mortgages and traffic signs to election ballots and divorce papers.
In 2003, the country's constitutional court ruled that the bilingual voting district comprising the capital, Brussels, and 35 Flemish towns bordering it, was illegal because it violated the separation of Dutch- and French-language regions.