Belgium: A managed democracy

Electoral registration office bans Belgian cwi contesting elections

The electoral registration office in ‘French-speaking’ Wallonia rejected the signatures smaller parties had collected to legally stand in the forthcoming European elections. According to Belgian law, parties – in order to be able to contest the elections – either need the signatures of 5 members of parliament or have to collect 5,000 signatures of people who are entitled to vote.

The authority’s main legal argument is that people did not know which candidates they were endorsing when they signed the election papers of parties like MAS, the Belgian affiliate of the cwi. But the same arguments could be used to prevent the main parties from taking part in the elections. Nobody knows who is running on their lists before they register nor is their any democratic control over the wheeling and dealing between the traditional parties once elections have taken place.

Parties hit by this managed democracy are the PTB (Parti du Travail de Belgique), a Maoist party), RWF (Rassemblement Wallonie Bruxelles) a party which wants Wallonia to break from Belgium and unify with France, CDF (Chrétiens démocrates francophones) a split from the Christian Democrats, and two fascist parties the FN (Front National) and FNB (Front National de Belgique).

The traditional parties in Wallonia have been nervous about the outcome of these elections for some time. The social democrat PS (Parti Socialiste), which has been the biggest party on that side of the language border for most of recent history, is worried about an electoral backlash against its neo-liberal policies in the national, regional and local governments and in protest at their cronyism in Wallonia. In the last elections, the green party, Ecolo, was hit by an electoral revolt against its role in government. They lost all their seats and part of the voters flocked back to the PS. The far right and fascist parties, which are extremely disorganised in the French speaking part of the country, have picked up support in the last two years, and are on the verge of a breakthrough. Recent opinion polls suggest that they might receive between 6% and 8% of the votes.

The rise of these parties is caused by the anti-working class policies of the ruling class and the lack of a political alternative that would defend the interests of the working class and poor. The working class is suffering the combined effects of de-industrialisation, with cuts in social provisions and welfare. The policies of privatisation and neo-liberalism have left some of the regions in Wallonia, where unemployment is over 20%, amongst the poorest in Europe.

The MAS is fighting these elections on a socialist platform. We want to build a working class alternative to the policies of the ruling class. We want to build a left opposition against neo-liberalism. We have a proud record, in Flanders as well as in Wallonia, of fighting against the parties of racism and fascism.

The ruling class think they can stop all anti-establishment parties from gaining influence by preventing them from taking part in the elections. This is going to have the opposite effect, as it is seen by a large layer of the population as an attempt by the main politicians to protect their interests. They would do anything to be able to stay on the European gravy train.

The way in which the traditional parties, in alliance with the judiciary, have cooked up this ‘deus ex machina’ shows their utter contempt for democracy if the latter does not suit their needs. Like characters in ancient Greek dramas, they think they can use divine powers to right all wrongs and secure their monopoly on political power. In Belgium, voting is obligatory but the vote is not free. Failing to go to the polling booth might end with a fine. Failing to organise in a political party approved by the ruling class might result in that party’s ban from standing in elections.

The MAS, Mouvement pour une Alternative Socialiste, together with all the other parties effected by the ban, except, of course, the fascists, is taking legal action against the decision of the electoral registration office. The final decision has to be taken this coming Thursday. This play is not over, just yet.

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