Belgium is gearing up for the communal elections next year. And expats are more than welcome to participate. But first, what do we need to know to get ready for the elections?
Our fellow expat Bertrand Wert walks us through the essentials. He is a French national who currently occupies a seat in the communal council of Ixelles.
‼️ Communal Elections 101 with Bertrand Wert. A French expat who currently occupies a seat in the communal council of Ixelles. Today on @brussels.express 👇 #BrusselsExpress #welovebrussels #Brussels #Bruxelles #Brussel #Belgium #Belgie #Belgique #photography #visitbrussels #bxlove #brüssel #bruxelas #seemybrussels #bxlmabelle #Brisel #Bruksela #Bruselas #brusel #Bryssel #Brüksel #picoftheday #instamood #ixelles #ixellesmabelle #elections #elections2018 #expat
1. You can vote.
In case you didn’t know, registered foreign residents (EU and non EU citizens) in Belgium have the right to vote in the communal elections. However, there are certain requirements to be followed. EU citizens of voting age are automatically qualified to vote. They simply have to sign up in the electoral register of their commune. For non-EU citizens of voting age, those who have been living in Belgium for at least five years can register for the elections.
Councillor Wert encourages expats to get involved in local politics and get a say on how their communes are being managed.“Voting is a basic right and it should be the basic thing that we should ask from citizens, knowing the value of democracy and knowing how much it is important to vote in the context that we are[sic],” says Wert.
2. Voting is not compulsory for expats.
So no pressure there. Voting becomes mandatory only if you registered to vote. Wert assures expats that they have a choice to withdraw their registration from the commune without any justifications. But the councillor believes it is not too much to ask expats to participate in elections that come only once in a blue moon. “These elections are just every six years. It’s one Sunday in six years so it’s one day in 2,190 days.”
3. You can register to vote now.
The deadline for registrations is on July 31, 2018. All you have to do is fill up a form which is available online, and send it to your commune along with a copy of your resident ID. Wert hopes that in the future, it will be possible to submit registration forms online. “For years, we have been asking the commune of Ixelles but also at regional level to change this and make it feasible via the web.“
There are also efforts to make election documents available in different languages. “It’s a way to integrate people coming from various countries and languages,” says Wert. But he adds that reforms can only take off if those in power are willing. He cites the situation in Ixelles where officials tend to be very francophone and resistant to other languages. “It is very difficult to change the habit [sic]. And if you don’t have the willingness of the leading parties to do so, indeed you can’t do more.”
4. EU citizens can run for office.
So if you’re an EU national with political ambitions, go for it. However, you can only run for councillor. The mayoral position is reserved for the Belgians. To be an eligible candidate, you have to be at least 18 years of age on the day of elections. You must also be a registered voter with no legal impediments to voting.
As an expat serving as a councillor in Ixelles, Wert says he hasn’t encountered any issues or difficulties working with Belgian politicians even if he belongs to opposition party ECOLO. “They tend to recognize that it is important to try to represent the variety and the cosmopolitan aspect of Brussels.” He says that fortunately, conservative nationalist parties like the New Flemish Alliance (N-VA), Vlaams Belang (VB), and People’s Party (PP) don’t have a presence in Ixelles.
5. Expats have a huge potential to influence electoral results.
If only expats would vote, they could be a powerhouse in communes like Ixelles, Saint-Gilles, and Etterbeek. But during the last communal elections, very few expats registered to vote. “The numbers are quite concerning,” says Wert. Foreign voters could have represented more than 43 percent of the electorate in Ixelles, but only 12 percent participated. In Saint-Gilles where non-Belgians could have accounted for more than 45 percent of voters, only 13.9 percent registered. Belgian authorities and local organizations are now joining forces to reach out to expats and encourage them to vote in the next elections.
6. The next communal elections will be on October 14, 2018.
Communal elections are held to elect a mayor and the board of councillors. A few weeks before the elections, registered voters will receive a voting card by mail from the communal administration. The card indicates the station where the voter can cast a ballot. On polling day, voters must present the card along with their ID. Voting is done either electronically or by paper ballot depending on the place of voting.
Wert calls on his fellow expats to get involved in the elections. He says the expat community is a force in Brussels which is one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. “But this gives us responsibilities. This has consequences on how we live together, and how people are involved in the city.” And voting constitutes one of the most vital and most essential forms of participation in society.