Luxembourg’s dwarf-party conundrum

Ten parties are running in Luxembourg’s parliamentary elections on 14 October. Eight are running in all four of the country’s electoral districts, while two of them – Demokratie and Déi Konservativ (the Conservatives) – are only on the ballot in one or two districts.

Demokratie, launched only recently, has been in the news for allegedly tricking people into becoming candidates for the party’s electoral list. So far, 10 people have said they were unaware they were put on the Demokratie list in the South district. They claim volunteers tricked them into signing up for the list, allegedly described at the time as a “petition”. As the scandal unfolded, the lead candidate of the party’s Southern list, Sonja Holper, said she contacted the district attorney, Joséane Schroeder, to request that the list be withdrawn. The district attorney pointed out, however, that Article 137 of Luxembourg’s electoral law prohibits lists from being withdrawn past the official deadline.

According to RTL Luxembourg, at least one of the people allegedly tricked has filed a lawsuit against Holper. It remains unclear on what grounds such a case would be pursued, most notably because the case marks a first in the country’s history – never before has a party attempted to withdraw a list before an election, and never before have candidates (allegedly) been put on a list without prior consent.

This has sparked a debate on Luxembourg’s electoral law and whether it needs an update. According to several MPs, a less rigid system of submitting and withdrawing electoral lists would be desirable.

Yet questions remain about the registration process for individual candidates. Should it be this easy for people to be ‘tricked’ into signing up for an electoral list? The system is by no means fail-safe when all a con artist needs is the information contained on an ID card. When we consider that every hotel we check into is in possession of such details, it’s clear to see that anyone could fall victim to this sort of shenanigan.

One thing seems certain – the ‘involuntary’ candidates of Demokratie’s Southern list will be on the ballot no matter what, even though neither they nor their party is planning to campaign at all.

No one wants to be a Lëschtefëller

The concept of Lëschtefëller (literally: ‘list filler’) is a pejorative term in Luxembourgish politics that describes a candidate who is only on the list for the purpose of reaching the maximum number of seats (Centre: 21, South: 23, North: seven, East: nine). The epithet is often flung at parties if their candidates are seen to be less than knowledgeable of their political platforms.

Having a candidate for each available seat not only looks better on the ballot, it is also important for campaign finance. One requirement of Luxembourgish campaign finance law is not only to reach a certain number of votes – so as to be reimbursed for campaign expenses – but also to have a complete list of candidates.

This has led several political parties to run candidates who don’t seem all that keen to run but do so for the cause of the party, rather than their own personal ambitions. The phenomenon is more common in municipal election ballots or among smaller parties. Of course, having candidates who did not consent at all would be a first for Luxembourg.

Luxembourg’s dwarf parties have shown the Grand-Duchy the antiquated nature of some of its legislation. Even if their movements disappear into the abyss by the next parliamentary election, the country has an interest in keeping elections free and accessible, all while protecting citizens from the tricks that were used by some of Demokratie’s doings. In this sense, even those unlikely to be relevant in the upcoming vote do play their role.

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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