2018 Communal Elections: 8 history lessons

Myths are not the only information problemFew non-Belgians know the history of voting rights in Belgium. So many Belgians and non-Belgians had to fight long and hard for the right to vote for all non-Belgians.

Photo by Annie Bolin on Unsplash

FACT 1: Non-Belgians fought to give Belgium its independence

After the Napoleonic wars, many political refugees made Brussels their home and fought in the Belgian revolution. Those residing for at least six years were rewarded with the right to vote for the 1st National Congress in 1830 which passed Europe’s most liberal constitution.

FACT 2: Belgium was the 1st country to adopt obligatory voting

Obligatory voting was adopted in 1893 as part of universal male suffrage so that workers would not be forced to work or intimidated on election day. Obligatory voting currently exists in 22 countries, including Australia, Greece, and most of Latin America.

FACT 3: The working class had to go through a war to get the equal right to vote

In Belgium, men with higher education and income were given multiple votes in elections until 1919.

FACT 4: Women had to go through TWO wars to get the equal right to vote

Belgium was one of the last European countries to adopt universal female suffrage—in 1948. Belgium was also one of the last to lower the voting age to 18—in 1981.

FACT 5: The Congolese had to wait half a century to get the right to vote

Belgium took over Congo in 1908 but the Congolese were only allowed to vote in 1957- three years before independence – and then, only in local elections in three cities.

FACT 6: For nearly 150 years, non-Belgians did not get the full right to vote when they became Belgian citizens

Only candidates for ‘grand naturalisation’ got the full right to vote. Foreigners who became Belgian through ordinary natura- lisation or marriage could only vote in local elections until 1976.

FACT 7: Non-Belgians had to fight for over 20 years to get the right to vote in local elections

Trade union elections were opened to foreigners in 1971. The first campaign for local voting rights—Objectif/Stemrecht 82—aimed to change the law by the 1982 elections. EU citizens were finally allowed to vote in 2000 and non-EU citizens in 2006.

FACT 8: Belgium was one of the LAST countries to open local voting rights to foreigners

Throughout the 1980s, most Brussels politicians opposed voting rights, even for EU citizens. The issue remained so contentious that Belgium had to be taken to the European Court of Justice in 1998 to implement EU voting rules. Guy Verhofstadt’s government almost collapsed over voting rights for non-EU citizens, with the extreme right Vlaams Blok scoring 24% in the 2004 Flemish elections.

Time to act

Only 14% of non-Belgians were registered for the last elections in 2012 because they did not get the right information in time. Hopefully, this time will be different because Brussels needs you now more than ever. This October, you can make history by signing up to vote and demanding historic reforms, including the right to vote for non-Belgians in Brussels regional elections

Sign up to vote before 31 July. Tell your friends the truth about voting in Belgium! And reach out to VoteBrussels via our social media, online surveys and 60+ volunteers ready to visit your office or event.