Shlomo Papirblat reports from Brussels in the Israeli newspaper “Haaretz”:
A proposal to select the members of the Belgian Senate at random gains surprising support from politicians in Brussels. The chairperson of the socialist party: “Traditional politics is ailing and new ways have to be considered.”
Senior politicians in Brussels are supporting a legislative reform that could revolutionize Belgian democracy: according to the plan members of the Senate – the upper chamber of the nation’s parliament – would be selected in a lottery that would be held once every four years among the citizenry. The chairperson of the socialist party in the Belgian parliament, Laurette Onkelinx, a former vice prime minister, is saying that “traditional politics is ailing and new ways have to be considered.”
In an interview prominently published Wednesday in the highly regarded “Le Soir” Onkelinx explains that “today’s politicians are generally required to get involved in burning social issues but they are behind – they can’t keep up. On the other hand, more and more grassroot and activist-developed social initiatives are involved in generating solutions.” When addressing the question of who can democracy of “professionals” can be combined with present-day requirements, she said that she thinks that “sortition needs to be adopted to bring normal people to the legislature, at least half the members of the house.”
The idea of sortition has been gaining support recently. There is support for this idea within the right-center ruling party, MR (The Reform Movement), the party of the current prime minister, Charles Michel. Richard Miller, an MR member of parliament, said that “we need to go directly to the people and hear their positions – and sortition is the way.” One of the heads of the left-wing Flemish party, Peter Vanvelthoven, a former labor minister, supports the idea as well. He says that the new approach pursued to its conclusion and “infuse new blood into the parliamentary institutions through a more direct democracy – select all members of the Senate through a random draw among all the adult citizens of Belgium. The pure democratic idea requires more participation of the citizens in decision making – beyond casting one vote in an election once every four years.”
Peter Vanvelthoven also created, together with judicial advisers and with expert, a practical proposal that was submitted to the leaders of his party, according to which a grand drawing among anyone on the Belgian registry of resident would select at random ten thousand names. Those people would be invited to a special meeting where the role assigned to them would be explained, what would be their rights and duties. Among those who would agree to proceed and take part in the process an additional drawing will select 150 citizens who would serve as Senators.
The Belgian Senate, the upper legislative house of the Belgian federation, which is made of three regions – Flanders, Wallonia, and the Capital region – is selected today by the parliaments of the regions. Each region appoints 50 representatives to the Senate in Brussels. Belgian politics is fragmented and ridden with disputes of authority between the regions (58% Flemish, 32% Wallonians, and 10% residents of Brussels), each with its own parliament and government. The fragmentation extends to the linguistic communities as well: the two large ones, the Flemish and the Wallonian, and the third small one, the German. Three official languages in total. The federal government, with a Chamber of Representatives and a Senate, operates above those frameworks.
The new political year is commencing these days in Belgium, as the politicians return from their long summer break – and the supporters of the allotment program promise that it will be at the center of the political agenda in the upcoming months. “It is absolutely not as ‘crazy’ as it sounds,” says former minister Vanvelthoven.