Parliamentary election

Voting to share in power

The right to vote which was granted only to a privileged minority in 1830 was gradually expanded to all Belgian men and women from 18 years of age. To be elected, one must be 21 years old.

Voting : from privilege to right

From 1831 to 1893, the "levy electoral system" was applied.

Only men, from 25 years of age, who paid taxes, were allowed to vote. The land tax was the determining factor, which was often advantageous to the large landowners.

From 1893 to 1919, the general plural voting right for men was in effect : those who had diplomas or owned land were allowed one or two extra votes.

Since 1919, the singular voting right for men was applied : one man, one vote.

It was not until 1948 that women were granted the right to vote.

Since 1981, every Belgian from 18 years of age has the right to vote, and since 1993 one can be elected for the federal Parliament from age 21.

Population those entitled to vote
parliamentary election
1831 4.080.000 46.000 1 %
1848 4.359.000 79.000 2 %
1894 6.342.000 1.355.000 21 %
1919 7.577.000 1.761.000 23 %
1949 8.526.000 5.031.000 59 %
1981 9.849.000 6.877.000 70 %
1995 10.131.000 7.199.000 71 %
1999 10.128.000 7.305.000 72 %
2003 10.310.000 7.571.000 75 %
2007 10.585.000 7.721.000 73 %
2010 10.840.000 7.768.000 72 %

The system for the division of seats was also altered. Until 1899 the majority system was applied : the candidates with the most votes in each electoral district, who also had ad absolute majority, were elected.

In 1899 the proportional representation system was adopted (system D'Hondt). This system allows the division of the seats among the parties in proportion to the results achieved.

The polls

Except for anticipated elections, members of the Chamber of representatives and Senators are elected every 4 years.

The European Parliament (*) and the community and regional councils are elected every 5 years, the municipal and provincial councils every 6 years.

The ballot is obligatory and secret.

In Belgium, going to the polling booth is compulsory.

Valid are list votes, where the dot at the top of one political party list is colored in. Also valid are preference votes or name votes, where on one list, dots are colored in next to the names of one or more individual candidates and/or replacement candidates. However, votes for different political parties on one and the same ballot render the ballot invalid.

Electoral districts

For the elections of the Chamber of representatives, the country is divided into 20 electoral districts. An electoral district corresponds to one or more administrative districts.

The 150 Chamber seats are divided among the electoral districts according to their number of population.

For the election of the 40 directly elected senators, the country is, like for the elections of the European Parliament, divided into 3 electoral districts : Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde.

There are two electoral colleges : a Flemish one and a French one. In Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde, it is up to the citizen to decide to which electoral district he or she belongs, by voting for a Flemish or a French language party.

The Flemish electoral college elects 15 representatives.

Repartition of seats

According to the D'Hondt method of calculation, the total number of ballots with votes for one single party in each electoral district is divided successively by 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 etc.

This results in different electoral quotients per political part.

Example of application of the D'Hondt system

Assuming that there are 12 seats to be assigned during an election and that there are 4 lists (A, B, C and D), 100 voters show up. Party A wins 40 votes, party B 30, party C 20 and party D 10.

The obtained electoral quotients are then classified according to size until there are as many quotients as there are seats to be assigned. The lowest electoral quotient is the electoral divisor. Each list subsequently receives as many seats as the number of times its voting number contains the electoral divisor.

Total number of ballots
divided by
1 40.0 30.0 20.0 10.0
2 20.0 15.0 10.0 5.0
3 13.3 10.0 6.6 3.3
4 10.0 7.5 5.0 2.5
5 8.0 6.0 4.0 2.0
6 6.6 5.0 3.3 1.6

The electoral divisor (= the lowest or 12th quotient eligible for a seat) is 7,5.

This gives party A 5 seats, party B receives 4 seats, party C 2 and party D 1 seat.

When the electoral divisor is the same for different parties (the above case if there were only 7 seats to be assigned), the seat goes to the party with the highest number of votes.

In case two parties obtain the same number of votes, the seat goes to the individual candidate with the most name votes. If that number is equal, the seat finally goes to the oldest candidate.

Assignment of seats and name votes

When each party knows the number of seats it obtained in each electoral district, the seats have to be assigned to individual candidates. The preference votes play an important role in this process.

Are elected : the candidates who attain the eligibility number. This number is equal to the number of ballots containing votes for that party, divided by the number of seats + 1 won by that party.

The remaining votes are assigned to the candidates who did not achieve the number to be eligible according to their order on the list.

The person at the bottom of the list has therefore only a small chance of being elected, unless he or she received enough preference votes to achieve the eligible number outright.

* Belgium sends 14 Dutch speaking representatives, 10 French speaking representatives, and one German speaking representative to the European Parliament.

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