Michel has steered a caretaker government doing only day-to-day business since December, but with the country's 8 million voters choosing from more than a dozen parties, chances are that it will prove difficult to quickly form a stable coalition.
The Flemish N-VA party takes a hard line on migrants and pulled out of government after Michel sought parliamentary approval for the U.N. Global Compact against its wishes. The N-VA branded the remnants of his government "the Marrakech coalition," after the city where the migration treaty was adopted.
The N-VA has been campaigning hard ahead of election day — Belgium is also holding a regional poll on Sunday — and surveys suggest the party may simply be too big for any future government to avoid. In a sign of the size of the challenge, Michel has even left his door open to working with the party again, telling broadcaster RTL Thursday: "I don't intend to rule out anything that will make the country ungovernable."
But when is Belgium likely to have a government? Belgium is renowned for its culinary fare and surrealist art — "I have to admit, it is easy to love a country famous for chocolate and beer," former U.S. president Barack Obama said during a visit in 2014 — but if there's one thing the kingdom is infamous for, it is politics.
After elections in 2010, Belgium set a world record of 589 days without a government, almost doubling the previous record set by conflict-torn Iraq. After the last polls, in 2014, parties haggled for four months before a coalition was agreed.
Analysts warn that the same thing is likely this time, meaning Belgium — where voting is compulsory — might spend most of this year without a fully functioning government. The root of the problem is the divide between the richer, Flemish-speaking north of the country, where about 60 percent of the population lives, and the somewhat poorer French-language region of Wallonia. Belgium also has a small German-language community.
Parties align themselves in terms of language and community, making it exceedingly difficult to form clear majorities in parliament and simple coalitions with a balance of community representation in government.
The Greens, a relatively small party, are expected to be bolstered, given several climate change rallies this year, and could play a kingmaker role, even though the Flemish nationalists and Walloon Socialists appear set to win the most seats.
European fears of a rise of far-right and populist parties are unlikely to arise in Belgium. Surveys suggest Vlaams Belang will make ground in Flanders, although will remain a relatively small party, but the far-right is virtually non-existent in Wallonia.