For the first time this year, non-nationals were able to register to vote as soon as they arrived in Luxembourg after the country scrapped a five-year residency requirement. Out of 252,464 eligible voters, 50,084 heeded the call, with EU and non-EU citizens allowed to take part.
For Yashar Ahmadov, who’s originally from Azerbaijan, it’s the first time he’s allowed to participate in an election as an expat, having lived in Dubai, Turkey, the US, Finland and Spain before.
“There is a significant expat population in Luxembourg, and there are topics that touch us as well. Having this right, being able to vote in the elections, it’s a very nice and inclusive move by the government. So, I decided to vote. Every single vote counts. I want to use my right,” he said.
Sustainability, transport, housing and childcare are among the top priorities for Ahmadov.
While Luxembourg locals also struggle with housing, it takes on another dimension for foreigners, for example impacting their decision to move to Luxembourg in the first place. Ahmadov had to extend his stay in temporary accommodation provided by his company when he first arrived because the search for housing took longer than expected.
Expats bringing in outside perspectives to an election and political debate is a good thing, he said. “Each person has a unique background, unique experiences and a unique view on living. It’s a value added. Diversity is always good when you sit at the table to brainstorm a problem.”
Rashmi Vittal was surprised that not more expats took the opportunity to register to vote. “It’s a privilege to be able to contribute,” she said. “This is my seventh country that I’m living in, and it took me a little while to understand the concept that I’m truly being invited to participate.”
While authorities made an effort to get voters signed up, she said more attention should have been paid to explaining what communes actually do and why they matter. “It needed a little more ‘watch what happens when you vote’ to create buy-in.”
It took me a little while to understand the concept that I’m truly being invited to participate.
Vittal would like to see more daycare options for children. In many cases, women follow their husbands to Luxembourg and initially find themselves out of work. When they do want to get a job, a lack of places in public daycare facilities means parents who are already working get priority for their children over those staying at home. Private crèches meanwhile often have long waiting lists.
She will also be on the lookout for measures to tackle safety concerns in the party’s election programmes. “You hear this quite a bit from problem who have been here longer, that it’s not as safe as before. Personally, I have not been affected, but you think about it.”
It takes some personal effort to get clued up about the different parties’ proposals, she said, also looking for information in English. Voting is about creating a “sense of ownership and accountability,” she said. “You can sit and complain all you want,” but with the right to vote, “you get to have a place to express your thoughts and your voice.”
Making the effort
Antonello Di Pinto* is voting for the first time despite having lived in the country since 1996.
“I got a lot of messages on social media to register, and I just didn’t,” he said, admitting that he was perhaps a bit lazy about previous elections. “I saw some posters in the streets, but it didn’t really speak to me. There were lots of faces but no ideas behind these faces. And making the effort to search for the information was too complicated.”
When he finally got around to registering in 2017, the deadline had passed. “It always told myself I should do it,” he said. “This time, I did it six months ahead of time. I no longer had an excuse.”
I don’t feel more involved now, because I already did before.
In his case, Di Pinto said, it would have been helpful to be automatically registered. “But I’m sure there are also lots of people who wouldn’t want that.”
The government has cited EU rules for being unable to register foreign voters automatically. Under a directive, non-nationals have a right to vote in municipal elections if they “wish to do so.” Since voting is mandatory in Luxembourg once you’re signed up, foreigners have to take that extra step themselves.
Di Pinto goes to events in his commune, from Buergbrennen to summer concerts. He’s on a neighbourhood app. “I don’t feel more involved now, because I already did before,” he said about voting.
Participating in democracy
Bamdad Goudarzi at the last local elections didn’t live in Luxembourg. He lived in Luxembourg from 2009 to 2016 and then moved back to the country in 2019. Having gained Luxembourg citizenship since his return, he now has to vote. “It forces you to inform yourself what’s going on, what party is doing what, and make the best choice--not just do something out of obligation.”
Goudarzi said he feels more integrated. “You participate in the future, your neighbourhood, where you live. It’s definitely an integration process.” But the freshly minted Luxembourger said he also understands expats who decide not to vote. “Maybe they don’t want to live here for long. Some of them aren’t really concerned with politics or what’s happening. Maybe they don’t vote generally anyways.”
You participate in the future, your neighbourhood, where you live. It’s definitely an integration process.
Originally from Iran, he said voting is “especially important for me. In Iran, we always say nothing doesn’t change anything. I voted just once and it was a rigged election. So it’s important to contribute when you live in a democracy.”
In his own commune, he would like to see more social inclusion initiatives but also making the commune more walkable. “I still have some studying to do, get to know who is who and what are the programmes.”
Political parties agreed to limit campaigning to four weeks, but Goudarzi said he would have liked more time and also to see more information in the party programmes.
Voting for the next generation
“There is a part of me that thinks, do I really need another piece of paper in my letterbox with lovely pictures of all the people standing,” said Helena**, who is also voting for the first time after gaining Luxembourg nationality. “I would much rather have a document that tells me a bit about their manifesto. It’s very person-based.”
Unlike Goudarzi, however, Helena said she already felt integrated after 20 years living in Luxembourg. Her children went to the local school. “We speak a mélange of English, French, German and Luxembourgish at home.” She regularly attended meet-and-greets with the local mayor. “I never really felt the need to go that last step.”
I never really felt the need to go that last step.
Taking Luxembourg nationality was prompted by Brexit, she said. “Otherwise, I probably wouldn’t have done it, because I had an EU nationality. Why would I need a second one?”
But voting has also taken on a new meaning for the mother of two as her children are getting older. “They talk about it at school, with their friends. They’re beginning to be a bit more aware of what’s going on.”
Helena plans to look at some of the election programmes with her children, to sit down and decide together who they’re going to support as a family. “My decision is going to have an impact on them. It’s setting up the future for when they grow up,” she said. “By the time of the next elections, my daughter will be eligible to vote. It’s also to help her understand the roles and responsibilities that she has.”
*Antonello Di Pinto is an employee of Maison Moderne, which publishes Delano.
**The interviewee’s name has been changed at their request.