Seeking empty seats: New party Blanco will stand for election across Belgium

Seeking empty seats: New party Blanco will stand for election across Belgium
Credit: Belga

A new political party in Belgium – called Blanco – is aiming to stand for elections across the country at this year's federal elections. Their only agenda point is giving voters the option to vote for an empty seat in the Federal Parliament.

The party proposes 120 effective candidates who, once elected, will abstain from all votes in parliament except one: an amendment to the Belgian constitution allowing empty seats in the Federal Parliament. Blanco will stand for election in all constituencies: people in Flanders, the Brussels-Capital Region and Wallonia can vote for them.

While turning up to vote is mandatory for all Belgian adults, actually voting is not: people are allowed to cast a blank vote, signalling that they are not willing to support any of the parties on the ballot. Blanco wants to "give visibility" to these citizens and aims to embody the "protest vote" of those who do not see themselves reflected in the existing political offering.

In 2019, more than one million Belgians (nearly 20% of Belgians of voting age) refused to vote and did so either by casting a blank vote or an invalid one, or by not showing up at all, Blanco said in a press release. The number also includes votes for parties that did not reach the electoral threshold.

Up to 30 empty seats

While those blank and invalid votes are still counted, they are not taken into account in the distribution of the 150 seats between the parties in the Federal Parliament – meaning hundreds of thousands of votes are not represented, which the Blanco founders are calling "undemocratic."

Under the current system, all those "lost" votes are now being distributed to other parties. "I am not going to say that they stole them, but it kind of comes down to it. With their blank vote, people usually want to express that they like none of the parties, but their vote is then added to the bigger ones, N-VA and Vlaams Belang," Raf Lens, one of the founders of Blanco, told De Morgen.

If you add the invalid and blank votes to the number of non-voters in 2019, they represent nearly 1.3 million people (over 10% of Belgium's entire population) – representing 26 seats in Parliament. If you include the votes for parties below the electoral threshold, you even get to 30 seats.

"It would make much more sense to leave those 30 seats unfilled," said Lens. "It would also be quite a saving in wages, flat-rate allowances and retirement bonuses. According to our calculations, it amounts to €65 million."

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Once the party's goal has been achieved and the constitution is amended, Blanco no longer has a reason to exist, its MPs will leave Parliament immediately and their seat will effectively remain empty. "We will no longer submit electoral lists and our elected officials will look for other work. We have to disappear as soon as possible."

So many people are genuinely motivated to stand for election with Blanco, Lens said. Many of them cannot agree with any programme or are disappointed with policies, which used to always result in protest votes towards extreme parties.

"Now, people get the opportunity to vote for a party that will stay out of any debate except one," he added. "This way, we will represent our voters better than the traditional parties."

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