Belgian election 2010

Belgium goes to the polls today,

after an election campaign dominated by heated debates over language rights. The Prime Minister, Yves Leterme, threw in the towel in April after his government failed to resolve a row over how to repartition the “communes” or boroughs around Brussels into new voting districts divided by language lines. (The Independent)

Last time, three years ago, it took many months to put together a government.

18 thoughts on “Belgian election 2010

  1. Am I missing something here (entirely possible…) but if these are electoral districts, as opposed to local govt units, why does anyone need to reapportion them at all? Why not let the voters resident there decide whether they want to vote for left-wing Flemish parties, right-wing Flemish parties, left-wing Walloon parties, right-wing Walloon parties, left-wing German-speaking parties, or right-wing German-speaking parties? When using PR-list in a quite fractionalised multi-party system, why fractionalise it further by arguing over an issue that, in other democracies, is often an administrative function performed by appointed commissions?

  2. Tom,

    Here’s the idea, as it’s been explained to me. Each elected representative is supposed to represent not only her district, but also her linguistic community—both the people and the territory of said community. But French-speakers in the outer parts of the BHV district live in the territory of the Flemish community, yet can vote for representatives of the Wallonian community. Since these representatives have no allegiance to the Flemish community from whose territory they are elected, this threatens many Flemish voters. It’s a bit as if Poles living in the UK were allowed to vote for Poland-based parties in the EU Parliament. Or if voters in Newark could vote in New York state elections.

    I don’t think there exists any good solution. You can maintain the current constitutional separation of linguistic communities, at the cost of effectively disenfranchising linguistic minorities. Or you can allow territory to change hands between communities via the ballot box, and disrupt the existing balance that’s lasted for over 50 years.

  3. Hmmm, thanks. So… maybe… something like if Canada had a Federal Francophone Council comprising (a) all federal MPs from the Province of Quebec, and (b) any Francophone MPs from the ROC. Then Quebecois complain because it means Anglophone MPs from Quebec get to sit on “their” FCC, and Anglophone voters in Quebec get to elect members of “their” FCC…(?)

    When I first heard of Ireland’s Gaeltacht Council elections, the thought occurred that this is one type of minority- protecting institution where you wouldn’t need to rely on either self-assertion, territorial segregation, or officials’ adjudication as to whether a given individual got a right to vote for the Gaelic-speaking representatives. You could just print the ballot-paper in Gaelic only – with candidates rotated, to avoid copying a ticket – and require a voter to tick the right answer to a few simple multiple-choice questions in Gaelic (“What colour is a tree trunk?” [*]) on Part A before her preferences on Part B are counted as valid. All sides could then safely assume that monolingual English-only voters would lack either the interest or the ability to cast a vote.

    [*] A deliberate trick question since the same word means both “brown” and “grey” in Gaelic…

  4. The language border was fixed in 1962 and the ‘arrondissement’ of Brussels was split: bilingual Brussels (19 municipalities) became an urban enclave within Dutch-speaking Halle-Vilvoorde (35 municipalities).

    But as cities tend to spread into their ‘periphery’, a French-speaking minority was already emerging in Halle-Vilvoorde. The compromise of 1962/63 consisted of (a) ‘facilities’ helping French-speaking inhabitants in 6 formally Dutch-speaking suburban municipalities; and (b) Brussels + Halle-Vilvoorde (B-H-V) stays one electoral district. (also to help the Dutch-speaking minority in Brussels)

    Because high-profile French-speaking politicians form Brussels still gather votes from the French-speaking minorities in Halle-Vilvoorde, Flemish hardliners see in this cross-communal electoral district the reason why the French-sepaking minorities do not assimilate and even grow ans spread in what is formally a Dutch-speaking area. (In my opinion: Even without electoral incentives, minorities speaking the higher status language, French in Belgium but English in Canada, resist adaping to the official but lower status language)

    In 2003 all electoral districts were widened to the province-level, leaving B-H-V even more as an exception: the only district spanning two regions (H-V = Flanders / Brussels) and splitting a province (Vlaams-Brabant: H-V separated from Leuven). The Consitutional Court found this arrangement unconstitutional but didn’t offer a remedy of its own.

    The issue how to restore the electoral map developed in a ‘institutional nuclear bomb’ as Dutch-speaking MPs voted unanimously in favor of splitting Brussels / Halle-Vilvoorde and French-speaking MPs unanimously vetoed such a decision, resulting in a deadlock since the 2007 elections.

  5. I don’t get this either. Why can’t Belgium just use a similar system to what New Zealand uses with the Maori electoral roll and the Maori electorates?

  6. We like to pretend that you can’t get on the Maori Roll by just claiming to have Maori ancestry (there is no actual check on eligibility). It would appear that letting people choose their Roll by declaration is not acceptable in Belgium.

  7. Wouldn’t it just be better if Belgium abolish the largest multi-member districts, and treat the country as one large multiple member district? Hopefully with a low 2% or 3% threshold nationwide.

    Does the system of largest multiple member districts encourage regionalism?

    What is the average district magnitude of these districts?

    What system of PR could be designed to minimized regionalism?

    I heard that Belgium uses a 5% threshold on some districts and other districts don’t have a threshold.

    Fortunately Belgium does not use FPTP.

    Was Belgium the first country in the world to elect it’s parliament with PR in 1901?

    Other questions about Belgium’s system of PR.

    Quoted from Wikipedia, “Voting is compulsory in Belgium; more than 90% of the population participates. Belgian voters are given five options when voting. They may—

    * Vote for a list as a whole, thereby showing approval of the order established by the party they vote for
    * Vote for one or more individual candidates belonging to one party, regardless of his or her ranking on the list. This is a “preference vote”

    Does Belgium use an open party list system or is it a free system like Switzerland?

    * Vote for one or more of the “alternates (substitutes)”

    Can someone explain, what is an alternative or a substitute? I know that some of the Continental European and Scandinavian countries, one cannot be a cabinet member, and member of the assembly as the same time.

    * Vote for one or more candidates, and one or more alternates, all of the same party
    * Vote invalid or blank so no one receives the vote”

  8. “Fortunately Belgium does not use FPTP.”

    Actually I took some time to go to the Belgian elections site and look through the returns by region. It looks like that if Belguim used FPTP, at least eight parties at least would have won seats in the lower house of parliament: the Flemish and Walloon versions of the socialists, christian democrats, and liberals, plus the moderate and hardline Flemish nationalists. The two versions of the Greens would have been the only party with significant support that might not have won any seats.

    Obviously support for the Flemish nationalists is concentrated, but both versions of the liberals, socialists, and christian democrats have significant regional pockets of support, for example the Wallon christian democrats, the weakest of the six, actually came first in Luxembourg. Ironically, under FPTP these parties probably would not have split among language and regional lines, as single member districts would have ensured that both communities would have been represented in each party caucus.

    Btw, its much the same with the Dutch elections, the top four parties all coming first in one part of the country or another. The liberals did well in and around Amsterdam, the christian democrats along the Rhine estuary, the anti-immigrant party in Rotterdam, and the socialists in the northeastern part of the country. The electoral map looks somewhat like a map of the various feudal entities the Netherlands was divided into during the Middle Ages.

  9. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I read somewhere that Belgium used multi-member districts with block voting until D’hondt was introduced. Is that correct?

  10. Belgium switched in 1899 (law) / 1900 (first elections) from two round majority in multimember districts to list-PR – the first country in the world electing its parliament by PR.

    The catholic party gained 70% of the seats nationawide and all the seats in Flanders and Brussels. To ease the North/South division (more catholics in Wallonia, more liberals and socialists in Flanders and to save the Liberals from being squeezed out by Catholics and Socialsit, list-PR


  11. Sorry, I’ll try again:

    Belgium switched in 1899 (law) / 1900 (first elections) from two round majority in multimember districts to list-PR – the first country in the world electing its parliament by PR.

    The catholic party gained 70% of the seats nationwide and all the seats in Flanders and Brussels. To ease the North/South division (more catholic MPs from Wallonia, more liberal and socialist MPs from Flanders and Brussels) and to save the Liberals from being squeezed out by Catholics and Socialists, list-PR was the solution.

  12. OK, let’s see if I get this. The list with a majority in the 1st round or a plurality in the 2nd round wins all the seats, right? Just like the general ticket used for the Electoral College, where it doesn’t matter if you win with 40% or 70%, you get all the states’ electors?

  13. I’d like a top-2 IRV runoff with PR for the Electoral College. It would be proposed as follows:

    – Get 50%+1 in the 1st round, you get all the Electors
    – Get a plurality in the 2nd round, you get 2/3 of the Electors and the runner-up gets the remaining 1/3 of the Electors

  14. … three other mayors in this Flemish region, called the Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde, or BHV… were elected more than four years ago but have never been officially installed. The issue? They sent voting information, written in French, to the French-speaking voters in their communities….

    ‘The voting-rights dispute in Wemmel and other towns in the BHV is so complicated that virtually no one understands it. Essentially, it gives French-speaking voters in the BHV the ability to vote for Francophone parties on the ballot in Brussels. No similar agreement exists for Flemings living in French-speaking areas. Most political analysts say a maximum of two or three Parliament seats are at stake. But the issue gnaws at the Flemish…

    – Suzanne Daley, “The Language Divide, Writ Small, in Belgian Town,” New York Times (16 July 2010), p A-4.

  15. The logic of “holidng the territory” would lead one to the wrong, but obvious conclusion that French-speakers should be blocked from moving into suburbs in the Flemish communes, and vice versa. Some Mayors of predominantly Flemish communes in BHV are apparently doing just that with the cooperation of developers and real estate agents, entirely illegally.

  16. I wonder if these centripetal forces might have been better constrained if, when Belgium set off on the road to federalism, national powers had been devolved to the provinces rather than to the regions/linguistic communities.
    I imagine Switzerland would be a lot harder to keep together if it had only three cantons (well, four if you count the Romansh, who are as important in the debate as the German-speaking Belgians).

  17. Yes ,one thing that most people dont seem to realise is that ,before we had the euro in belgium as currency ,the Flemish political repr. were very worried about the Belgian Frank currency.Then they gave in to the arrogant francophones much faster.Now they can wait forever if they like and so the country is going from crisis to crisis..Long may it last…….Flanders with union of the Netherlands and Brussel Capital with The Hague as political Capital….

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