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Belgium's election, my vote

On June 13, Belgium will have its first federal level elections since I became a citizen, and as voting is compulsory, I have been giving some thought to politics here for a change.

The election has been called a year early because of the collapse of negotiations between the two main linguistic communites over electoral districting in the Greater Brussels area. I have considered this matter in some detail and have concluded that I don't really care. I don't have a dog in this fight; it seems from my skimming of media accounts that the Flemings are in the weaker position on this one, but my vote isn't going to determine the outcome. I think that Yves Leterme has handled negotiations with the Francophone community disastrously since 2007 (which is a criticism of style rather than substance), and would vote for the strongest party other than his if he were likely to be prime minister again, but he has ruled himself out.

More broadly, several of the parties on this side of the taalgrens include independence, or at least more autonomy, for Flanders as a major part of their platform. Again, after long thought about the issue, I have concluded that I don't really care. Belgium is my adopted country, and Flanders is my adopted region, and I expect to stay here one way or the other for a decade or two. I've seen separatism in many parts of the world, and I've seen good and bad ways of doing it; I won't vote for any party that I perceive as inciting violence, but I'm rather agnostic on the main issue.

I'm also not going to decide on economic grounds. We depend as a family very much on Belgium's welfare state, and I don't especially object to vast amounts of my comfortable salary disappearing in taxation when I consider how much worse off we would be if we lived in the USA and paid only the lower taxes there. There are enough safeguards (and confusion) in the Belgian system that no single political party is going to be able to make decisions that adversely affect my standard of living. There is a management style issue, but again as long as it's not Yves Leterme I don't have a strong view.

In fact for me the decisive question in this election is a different cultural hot-button - the burka ban. We've discussed this before (and see also redfiona99 here), but the situation has developed now: the lower house of the Belgian parliament passed a law banning face-covering garments in public unanimously shortly before the elections were called, and once the new parliament is convened it will go to the Senate for further consideration. I am sure that such a law will eventually run foul of Belgium's human rights commitments, but in the meantime this is an attempt to criminalise a small minority for their cultural practices. I might feel different if there were gangs of veiled pickpockets roaming the streets, but there are not. I will not vote for any politicians who support this measure; I'm an immigrant in this country too.

There were a handful of abstentions on the vote, and I contacted one of them, a Socialist MP from Brussels, to ask if any of his Leuven-based colleagues agreed with him that the ban would lead to more rather than less discrimination; he replied that unfortunately he didn't think so (though optimistically urged me to vote for them anyway). So I've emailed all the lijsttrekkers (the #1 candidates on their list) for each of the ten parties standing in the Leuven electoral district to ask them their position on the burka ban (using that wording), and will consider their responses; I am resigning myself to the possibility that I may have to vote for a rabid left-wing party, or possibly not vote at all, though I am hopeful that I'll be able to identify a sensible candidate from one of the bigger parties. (Come to think of it, I need to do the same for the Senate candidates as well, especially considering it comes to them next.) I shall report back if I get any interesting responses.


May. 23rd, 2010 10:32 pm (UTC)
Burka ban

From your text I might discover that you are Leuven based citizen? I am an Leuven inhabitant and will be glad to invite you this thursday on our presentation of the Comité voor een Andere Politiek (committee for another politics/policy)... a young and small social movement (2006) making the transformation towards political party (it's a black and white explanation of our history but okay...). We will be presenting on the Senate list only (time was to short for

It will be with Manuel Chiguero, 1st candidate living in Leuven. You asked him the question about the burka, but his English is not well enough. I think it wille be interesting to meet and discuss with a "foreign" sociologist in our future development...

As about the ban, I personally think indeed you are right that it would not lessen the discrimination... behind the whole discussion is of course play more mechanism of division of the population, or influencing of the public opinion... Of course we will defend the right and freedom to present "openly" in the public space, but threat is not coming from the migrant women I guess... I haven't met a lot of burka women lately, besides...in the newspaper cartoons... Either the are such a small minority that one can ask why this would be such a national political issue, or they feel so afraid or opressed that they just stay inside their homes...

In an ideal world, I would not be against a burka ban, but here are other considerations who are not being discussed openly: for instance that part of the women or migrant people who are being pointed at, they don't even have the right to vote in Belgium if they don't have the Belgian nationality, even if they're paying taxes - if you consider paying taxes as a condition to decide how your money is publicly spent (only at the communal level the voting right is guaranteed, not at the federal level where this burka ban is decided)

Okay, this is not an elobated, discussed and voted "party" point of view, but instead of just asking you "vote for us for my interesting answer", I would prefer to invite you to organise a public debate with us, for instance this fall, about the issue... with some representatives of women or migrant organisations who feel concerned, because also the kerchief in public space (schools) has been a political debate last year (with turmoil in Antwerp schools...in fact it preceded the burka ban debate)


Fred Guldentops, candidate on the senate list for the "Comité voor een Andere Politiek"

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