Belgium's King Philippe has asked Prime Minister Charles Michel to continue to discharge government until elections in May while the premier lost his majority and stepped down.

Belgium's King Philippe (L) welcomes Prime Minister Charles Michel ahead of a meeting at the Royal Palace in Brussels, Belgium, December 21, 2018.
Belgium's King Philippe (L) welcomes Prime Minister Charles Michel ahead of a meeting at the Royal Palace in Brussels, Belgium, December 21, 2018. (Reuters)

Belgian King Philippe accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Charles Michel on Friday and requested his government stay on in a caretaker capacity for the coming months after his coalition split following an argument over migration.

After three days of consultations with party leaders, the palace said in a statement that the king had established a willingness to guarantee the country was managed until the next election, due on May 26. 

Belgium could have held an early election.

"The king asks political leaders and the institutions, in which he repeats his trust, to provide an appropriate response to the economic, budgetary and international challenges so as to meet the expectations of the population, such as on social and environmental issues," the palace said.

The king asked the leaders to ensure that the government can smoothly handle a number of files in coming months, chief among them the 2019 budget.

UN migration pact

Michel, who turned 43 on Friday, submitted his resignation on Tuesday as pressure built on his government after the biggest party in his coalition party quit over his support for a UN migration pact.

Belgium is no stranger to political chaos, and building a coalition and Cabinet that respect the balance between parties from the Dutch-speaking north of the country, Flanders, and French-language Wallonia has proved a trial for many administrations.

The kingdom went for 589 days without a government in 2010-11 — a world record at the time — because politicians in Flanders, the more wealthy part of Belgium that makes up almost 60 percent of the total 11.5 million population, and Wallonia, couldn't agree on a policy program following elections.

Belgium also has a small German-language community.

But it's the first time that Philippe has faced such a crisis. He ascended to the throne in 2013 after his father, King Albert II, abdicated for health reasons.

'The Marrakech coalition'

This time around, the Flemish right-wing N-VA party quit after Michel sought parliamentary approval for the UN Global Compact against its wishes, branding his new minority government "the Marrakech coalition," after the city where the migration treaty was adopted on December 10-11.

The accord is non-binding, but the N-VA said it still went too far and would give migrants who were in Belgium without authorisation many additional rights.

Over the last two days, various party leaders suggested that the N-VA is simply too big an obstacle for Michel's minority government to work around, but they were also reluctant to call snap elections when polls are due in five months anyway.

A noisy but relatively small yellow vest movement in Belgium has been calling for his resignation, but their at times violent protests appear to have had little or no impact on the fate of Michel's government.

Source: AP