This 2012 news clip from news agency RT provides an overview of the public debate that emerged after a candidate with an intellectual disability ran for a seat on Ghent's City Council in Belgium. RT interviewed the candidate, Didier Peleman, as well as citizens of Ghent to explore the different viewpoints on Peleman's candidacy.
Newscaster: Europe may be facing a tolerance crisis with the far-right and anti-immigration rhetoric intensifying, but it’s at the other extreme in the Belgian city of Ghent. Politicians are being accused of being too tolerant because they are allowing a man with mental disabilities to run for office.
Journalist (Tesa Arcilla): We’re here in Ghent a city in Flanders, known for its pretty medieval town, but it’s also recently made headlines when a political part put a man with mental disabilities on its candidate list for local elections. Meet Didier Peleman, the 41-year-old candidate of the Flemish Christian Democrats. He’s hoping to get a seat on Ghent’s City Council. He admits he has difficulties in speaking and writing.
Didier Peleman: Yeah, I’ve been active in community work for 11 years. Our party slogan is “everyone’s included” so I want to be given the chance to be counselor to express myself and help people with disabilities.
Tesa Arcilla: He says he wants to encourage voluntary social work and make the city more accessible to people with handicaps by promoting the use of simple language.
Interviewee #1 (man): This is just a signal to the people in Ghent. Also, people with disabilities can run for elections. They are in our community. They are here, so we can’t ignore them.
Tesa Arcilla: You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who say such people aren’t part of society, but some see the party’s move as inappropriate where public office is concerned, raising questions whether politicians have pushed the envelope too far this time.
Interviewee #2 (woman): If you are physically disabled it is not ridiculous but this person has mental disabilities, so that is another question. He may have problems with reasoning.
Interviewee #3 (man): I think he’s not capable of making decisions for other people. I do volunteer work myself with mentally disabled people. I have got a lot of respect for them but they have to realize themselves that they’re not able to do everything.
Tesa Arcilla: Other residents like Frederick think it’s really nothing more than a publicity stunt.
Interviewee #4 (Frederic Ranson): But I know it’s difficult when you criticize such a nice and good guy, but I don’t want to criticize him in person, I want to criticize his party for using him as a kind of political tool and to get media attention in a time that are close to the municipal elections.
Tesa Arcilla: Didier is well aware of the criticism but as far he’s concerned:
Didier Peleman: I spend a lot of energy campaigning but it is up to the voters.
-- End of transcript --