Nobody expected King Baudouin to die so soon, or his brother to survive him for so many years: they were only four years apart in age. As is oftentimes the case when the throne passes to collateral lines in a house, the younger brother could easily predecease the older brother, and end up being only a conduit in the succession. That's why the expected successor to Baudouin had, for many years, been thought to be Philippe. In fact, I even heard that the uncle intended to abdicate the throne in favor of his nephew in 2005 (evidently he didn't want to reign until death).
And indeed, in the event of abdication, it's entirely possible to bypass heirs who are closer in line to the throne. This has been stressed in the British case of 1936. Earlier in European royal history, the woman we know as the Grand Duchess Charlotte of Luxembourg was not thought of as the automatic successor to her older sister, the Grand Duchess Marie Adelaide, who was forced for political reasons to abdicate the throne. Indeed, Charlotte almost got bypassed in the succession, for reasons that she was engaged to Prince Felix of Bourbon-Parma, brother of Empress Zita of Austria.
As it was, none of her younger sisters could have worked out, either -- as there were issues with all of them. So in the end, her claim prevailed (they somehow worked around the difficult situation with Charlotte's prospective husband).
Succession is tricky when the throne passes collaterally, as in the Benelux cases cited above, of when a throne is vacated through abdication, not death. I think the fact that Baudouin died before he could abdicate the throne made it easier to confirm his brother as his immediate successor. And indeed, had King Edward VIII of Great Britain suddenly died without any direct heirs, at any time after his accession in 1936, then the Duke of York would have automatically succeeded him on the throne: his status as the new king would not have had to be confirmed. As it was, he didn't die but rather, abdicated the throne, thereby creating a messy situation ...
Alternatively, there were no questions of succession after the 1848 abdication of King Ludwig I of Bavaria (as with the British king, for scandalous personal reasons) or the 1918 abdication of Tsar Ferdinand of the Bulgarians (as with the grand duchess of Luxembourg, for political reasons): in each case, the throne passed laterally, not collaterally. That is: the reigning monarch was succeeded by an heir apparent (the eldest son, known as the crown prince) -- meaning somebody who expected to eventually inherit the throne, anyway.
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