General election: judges called to order

The Flemish magistrates of the courts of first instance have said that the general election cannot be held using provincial constituencies as happened last time in 2007. The magistrates add that a valid election can be organised if the smaller district constituencies used in earlier elections are reintroduced.

By this statement the magistrates are entering the debate on the constitutionality of the forthcoming election. Earlier the Constitutional Court ruled that the Brussels Halle Vilvoorde constituency (BHV) needed to be split before a valid election could be held.

The court argued that without the splitting the equality principle - that all Belgians are treated equally- would be infringed. In 2007 people in Flemish Brabant province were the only voters not to be able to vote in a province-wide constituency.

The magistrates whose job it is to ensure that elections are valid made their concerns known in a letter to the Prime Minister, the Interior Minister, the Speaker of the Chamber of Representatives and the President of the Court of Cassation.

In their letter they say that valid elections can only be staged if the 22 districts used in earlier polls are reintroduced.

"I'll replace magistrates if need be!"

Interior Minister Annemie Turtelboom (Flemish liberal) is not impressed by the magistrates' initiative. Ms. Turtelboom has repeated that she has no plans to ditch the provincial constituencies.

Ms. Turtelboom points out that she is the member of an outgoing administration that cannot take any new initiatives including a return to the old system.

She insists: "The rules of the game can be changed beforehand, but not while the game is in progress."

The magistrates have the job of ensuring that the elections are valid. If they do not co-operate, Ms. Turtelboom is prepared to replace them to make sure that the election can be held.

She added: "Everybody should consider their responsibility. In a democracy the voter has the final say. I don't know if it's up to the judiciary to decide whether elections are held. That conflicts with the basic principles enshrined in the constitution."

The Interior Minister also underlines that political parties are no longer organised at a district level and that the software to enable electronic voting is not available either.

Ms. Turtelboom now intends to consult the Federal Premier and the Speaker of the Chamber of Representatives.

Land's highest magistrate intervenes

The President of the Court of Cassation, Belgium's Supreme Court, Ghislain Londers, has called on the magistrates of the courts of first instance to co-operate in the organisation of the general election.

Belgium's highest magistrate says that his colleagues are bound to do so under the Belgian Constitution.

Mr Londers took his initiative at the request of the Justice Minister, Stefaan De Clerck (Flemish Christian democrat), who cannot intervene directly because of the division of powers.

In a letter to the presiding magistrates of the courts of appeal, the superiors of the magistrates of the courts of first instance, Belgium's highest magistrate says that they are bound to help organise elections under Belgium's basic law.

Mr Londers points to constitutional articles 46 and 48 and a similar interpretation of these articles by the Constitutional Court.