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Turkish Belgians Sweep Islamic Council Elections

InternationalTurkish Belgians won sweeping victory in the Islamic Executive Council elections, with women making a very strong performance in the poll marred by low turnout, reflecting a conspicuous rift within the community.

Turkish Belgians secured 40 of the 68 seats up for grabs at the elections, according to the results announced Thursday, March 24.

Although Muslims of Moroccan origin are 250,000 in number - compared with 130,000 of Turkish origin - they only got paltry 20 seats.

Women also achieved satisfactory results, getting five seats with Duzun Hacer winning most votes.

Low Turnout

The polls – second of its kind -- were, however, marred by low turnout, despite the key role of these elections in picking up the representatives of a 450,000-strong minority.

Observers attributed the apathy to the fact that many minority members place no confidence in the body. They believe it is rather dedicated to serving the government, accusing its earlier leadership of failure to make progress whatsoever.

“Also, the low turnout of Moroccan candidates against a higher one by Turkish candidates reflects the rift within the Muslim minority,” said Noureddine Taouil, who won most votes for the district of Antwerpen.

Hassan Boussitta, a member of the electoral committee, described the polls as fair and free.

“We try to exert efforts according to Belgian law, which grants Muslims as well as people of other faiths the right to make their presence felt and practice their religion,” Boussitta said.

He added that right allows the Muslim minority to build and maintain religious institutions, pays the salaries of teachers and imams and employees in projects serving the minority.

Absent Moroccans

The boycott of Belgians of Moroccan descent of the elections was conspicuous, Boussitta said.

Boussitta provided no reasons for their absence, but pledged to re-hold elections in some of the overall 115 voting centers if violations were found. He said the electoral committee is ready to look into complaints about the results of the vote.

Ballot boxes were placed in mosques as well as public places for members of the Muslim minority to have their say.

The extraordinary elections are the second by the Islamic Executive Council.

The first vote was held in 1998, after the government got several complaints lodged by official Muslim bodies over the integrity of the council, whose president Mohamed Boulif had to tender his resignation in consequence.

The Muslim population includes 30,000 Albanians and others who hail from Palestine, Algeria, Tunisia and Bosnia. The Belgian population amounts to 10 million.

There are 300 mosques in Belgium, the oldest of them is the Islamic center in Brussels, which dates back to 1968.

Islam was recognized in Belgium in 1974 but only in 1998 the Muslim minority was represented by a general council.

Several political activists, of Muslim origin, have managed to sit in the Federal Parliament and provincial parliaments as well as municipalities.

The recent government has included the first Muslim minister, Anisa Timsmani, of Moroccan origin, who had to resign under the pressures of Belgian right-wing media.

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