New to Luxembourg? 5 things you need to know about the upcoming elections

On October 14, Luxembourgers will take to the polls to elect a new parliament. To those newly arrived in the Grand Duchy, the myriad political posters with unfamiliar faces might look confusing. Here are the five things you need to know about Luxembourg’s election.

How it works

In mid-October, five years since the last election in 2013, citizens will be asked to vote for a new parliament. Luxembourgers between the ages of 18 and 75 are not only eligible to vote but, according to the law, required to go to the polls. According to state records, however, the last cases of registered non-voters being pursued and punished in Luxembourg were in 1963 and 1964, respectively. Since then, nobody who registered to vote but didn’t visit the polling stations on Election Day has been penalised. And yet the widespread sentiment of voting being a legal obligation helps keeps participation rates close to 100%.

Luxembourgers vote according to their districts. There are four: the Centre (21 seats), the South (23 seats), the North (nine seats) and the East (seven seats). This system is supposed to be proportional to population in the respective district, but it has also been criticised for being outdated and ignoring the less populated North and East of the country.

The four figures combine into 60 seats in the parliament, located in the very centre of Luxembourg City, right next to the Grand Duke’s palace. This conventional parliamentary system then composes a government, which is controlled and guided by the Chambre des Députés (Chamber of Deputies).

Support candidates from different parties? Luxembourg gives you options

Luxembourg’s electoral process can seem confusing to people accustomed to a ‘first-past-the-post’ system, such as that found in the UK, a two-round system (found in France) or a two-ballot system (found in Germany).

Political parties established lists, with the number of candidates corresponding with the number of seats available in the particular district (21 candidates for 21 seats available in the Centre district, for example). Voters can decide to vote for the political party as a whole, thereby giving 21 votes to that party (one to each candidate). Or they can distribute their 21 votes to individual candidates, choosing, say, five communists, seven liberals, four centre-left candidates, three socialists and two environmentalists. This system is called panachage (mixing), and it is very popular with Luxembourgish voters, who are known to be less party-orientated and more attracted to individual candidates. This makes the Luxembourgish campaign very focused on candidates rather than party platforms.

The key players

As of now, the government comprises three parties: the Demokratesch Partei (Democratic Party, 13 seats in parliament), the Lëtzebuerger Sozialistesch Aarbechterpartei (Luxembourgish Socialist Worker’s Party, 13 seats) and déi Gréng (Green Party, six seats). These parties have been in coalition since 2013. The largest opposition party is the Crëschtlech-Sozial Vollékspartei (Christian-Social People’s Party, 23 seats), followed by the Alternativ-Demokratesch Reformpartei (Alternative Democratic Party for Reforms, three seats) and déi Lénk (The Left, two seats).

A three-party coalition, uncommon in Luxembourgish politics, took place as the now-ruling parties sought to avoid a coalition with the CSV, the party of now EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker.

The key players of the four major parties are the following:

CSV (centre-left): Claude Wiseler (designated lead candidate), Viviane Reding (former EU commissioner)

DP (liberal-democrat): Xavier Bettel (incumbent prime minister)

LSAP (socialist): Etienne Schneider (incumbent deputy prime minister)

Green Party (environmentalist): François Bausch (incumbent minister of transport)

According to the latest opinion polls, the CSV is expected to come out of the election with a larger number of seats, coming close to an absolute majority, while the LSAP and the DP are expected to lose seats. The Greens are expected to hold their current position, which is why speculation is high for a coalition between the Greens and the CSV.

Foreigners can’t vote, but that doesn’t mean they can’t participate

The question of including non-Luxembourgish residents in the electoral process has been hotly debated in the Grand Duchy for a few years already. The discussion has calmed down since 2015, when, in a referendum, 80% of Luxembourgers voted against giving residents who have lived in Luxembourg for five consecutive years the right to vote.

Participation in the democratic process, however, has not been wholly discouraged. Most political gatherings, organised by the parties or national or local governments, are translated into German or French, and nobody is excluded from raising their voice about the issues in their communities. All residents from the ages of 15 and above are entitled to initiate to a petition, demanding to be heard in front of parliament. If a petition (now mostly online), gathers 4,500 signatures from eligible participants, those asking for a public debate will be invited to parliament to express their views. You can find information about how to initiate a public petition, or sign existing petitions, on the parliament’s website. Non-Luxembourgish residents are also allowed to vote in municipal and European elections after a certain time of residency, and after registering to vote.

Who’s going to win?

Luxembourgish politicians are known for staying humble in the run-up to an election. For a candidate, declaring your intention to be the only winner is not only considered arrogant but also unwise, if you find yourself in need of a coalition partner. Even after the elections, parties diplomatically weigh all the pros and cons of each possible arrangement to avoid upsetting a potential partner. Some foreigners accustomed to rather more heated campaigning might find Luxembourg’s electoral process a bit toothless.

So who, then, is going to win? We don’t know, and we certainly don’t dare make a prediction.

But if you ask a Luxembourgish politician, don’t be surprised if you get this answer: “The voters will”.

This article was first published by the Luxembourg Times.

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About Bill Wirtz

My name is Bill, I'm from Luxembourg and I write about the virtues of a free society. I favour individual and economic freedom and I believe in the capabilities people can develop when they have to take their own responsibilities.

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