Thanks to Brexit, last year I became a Belgian citizen. I couldn’t really envisage a situation in which I, a Brit, would be separated from my Belgian husband and child, but with the British government even then displaying an unedifying mix of incompetence and hostility I thought it best to mitigate that possibility.
Anyway, as a consequence I am now obliged to vote in Belgian elections. Voting is compulsory here, though there is a ‘blank space’ option on the ballot if you don’t care for any of the candidates. If you don’t vote and don’t have a good reason for it, like being out of the country on holiday, you can be fined. Not that this would be a problem for me, since the older I grow, the more important I realise voting is.
Today were the local and provincial elections. There are many political parties here, and they tend to govern in coalitions (I still can’t really understand why the British get in such a froth about coalition governments), but for the first few years of living here I couldn’t really tell my NVA from my CD&V. Keen to cast an informed vote I have been doing my homework over the past few weeks, avidly reading all of the leaflets dropped in our letterbox and rather hoping a candidate or two might pass by so that I could quiz them about their policies. Alas, none did.
There are 33 seats on our local council and so each party is supposed to field 33 candidates, in the unlikely event that they sweep the board. The candidates most likely to win lots of votes are placed high up on the party’s list; those who are thought to be less popular further down. For the smaller parties, I understand, it can be a bit of a scramble to find 33 candidates and sometimes the last few are people who’ve had their arms twisted by a friend or relative after a few pints one Saturday evening. And because it is a small town, people tend to vote for people they know and like.
Clutching my voting card I trotted off with K and E just before lunch to one of the local schools to vote – and not only was it the first time I cast a Belgian vote but it was the first time I had to use a computer to do so! We were first sent to Area 31, where we handed over our ID cards and voting cards and were given a plastic card and shown to a voting booth which contained a rather fearsome-looking computer. I had to push the card into the computer and then use a touch-screen to cast my votes. It was a tiny bit stressful (because computers!) but pleasing too. (I heard K calling that his computer wasn’t working, how glad I was that it wasn’t mine!) A paper slip was printed out at the end with one of those square codey things on it. I left the booth, flailed around another computer and had to be helped by a nice man who showed me what to do with the plastic card, where to scan my slip of paper and where to drop it afterwards. Then I was given back my ID card and my stamped voting card. Success!
I like to think that E regarded me with admiration but perhaps she did not.