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Flanders says voting will not be compulsory in upcoming elections

08:22 04/04/2024

Voting has been compulsory in Belgium since 1893. But now, the Flemish government has ruled that this will no longer be the case in Flanders for this year’s municipal and provincial elections taking place on 13 October.

Astrid Roelandts, a journalist with Het Laatste Nieuws, told RTL that this will weaken the vote of the right-wing, nationalist Vlaams-Belang, which performed well in the last elections.

The Open Flemish Liberals and Democrats (Open VLD) also wanted to stop compulsory voting – even though this could lead to fewer votes for the Vlaams-Belang and their own party. However, the centrist Flemish Christian Democrat (CD&V) party already regrets this decision.

“If we abolish this obligation, we’ll have people often of average or low-income who have not studied much deciding not to vote any more. So the vote will not be representative,” Roelandts said.

Indeed, several studies have shown that the more privileged you are, the more likely you are to vote: “If you abolish mandatory voting, you will tend to favour the most culturally and socially privileged in society,” said ULB political scientist Pascal Delwit.

He said voting should remain compulsory: “I think that Belgium and Luxembourg are enlightened states from that point of view, because it allows everyone to express their opinion.

"And it also allows all the political players, all the political parties, to take into account the opinions of the different sectors and areas of society, not just those of the most privileged."

As it stands, technically, Belgium does not have compulsory voting. Citizens must go to the polling station on election day with their registration letter and identity card, but they do not actually have to vote – and the threat of a fine without stamping a ballot paper has not materialised very often.

Notwithstanding, current voting rates are high, and politicians and parties are waiting to see how many Flemish people will now show up to elect their municipal authorities and mayor.

Meanwhile, a recent opinion survey by Belgian media outlets Het Laatste Nieuws, VTM Nieuws, RTL and Le Soir found that seven in 10 Belgians would vote, even if they did not have to.

This is about the same percentage as in France, but a lower rate than in the Netherlands, where normally 75% to 80% of inhabitants go to the polls.

The study showed that while 76% of Flemish people would continue to vote, in Wallonia only 58% would do so if compulsory voting were scrapped there. Some 71% said they would go to the polls in Brussels if they had the choice whether to attend or not.

The research also revealed that voting was more popular with men (75%) than for women (65%) and for the over-55s (77%) than for the 18-34 age group (64%).

Written by Liz Newmark