Voting no longer compulsory in local elections

It’s a peculiarity of the Belgian voting system and one often commented upon by expats: Belgium’s obligation to attend a voting place at an election.  In Flanders though this is now no longer mandatory, at least for local elections.

The Flemish parliament has just approved fresh legislation regarding the local elections.  Compulsory attendance of a voting place – once introduced to stop employers from pressuring their workers not to go and vote – is no more.  The legislation also weakens the impact of list votes – votes at the top of a list and not for an individual candidate – and virtually introduces the direct election of mayors.

“We will now have to motivate people, come up with projects and ideas” said nationalist lawmaker Van Dijck welcoming the move. But not everybody is so enamoured.  Socialist lawmaker Kurt De Loor (Vooruit) spoke of an ‘historical mistake’ and the ‘greatest blunder of a political generation’: “All research has shown that this will raise the threshold on political participation”. 

Flemish home minister Bart Somers (liberal) urged people to look abroad and noted that countries that didn’t make voting compulsory featured at the top of social policy rankings. Mr Somers rejected claims the measure would benefit certain parties. “Look at countries like France and Greece without mandatory voting.  There too you see parties that could be dubbed extreme making big inroads.”

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