The Flemish parliament meeting on Wednesday gave the green light for the abolition of compulsory voting in local elections, which will apply for the next elections in 2024.
The reform also changes the impact of the top-down vote and introduces the almost direct election of the mayor. However, it was the abolition of compulsory voting that featured prominently in debate on Wednesday.
“There are countries with compulsory voting and others without, and they can be compared,” said Flemish Minister of the Interior, Bart Somers (Open Vld).
“If you look at social policy, for example, the countries that rank highest are those that do not have compulsory voting.”
Somers also refuted the argument that abolishing compulsory voting would favour certain parties.
“Look at countries without compulsory voting like France or Greece... You also see parties that can be described as extreme breaking through,” Somers said.
A group of 20 Flemish political scientists warned last month that abolishing the obligation to turn up to vote for local elections would weaken democracy, saying it would lower voting rates among vulnerable groups.
The decree was approved by a majority against the opposition and will be in force for the next local elections in 2024.
Belgium has been one of the few remaining countries where turning up to vote is still compulsory, but around 10% of Belgians usually stay at home during elections.
Officially, people who do not go to vote risk a penalty of €40 up to €80, but in practice, people rarely get fined.
The Brussels Times