The Daily Herald writes that the First Chamber of the Dutch Parliament has decided to call in the minister for a debate on February 11, 2014, being unhappy with the explanation of Dutch Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk as to why he rejects a Caribbean Netherlands Electoral College,.
At stake is the amendment of the Dutch Constitution to regulate the constitutional status of the public entities Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba and the role of the islands’ general representative organs, the Island Councils, in the First Chamber elections. This proposal to amend the Constitution has been at the Senate’s Permanent Committees for Home Affairs, General Affairs/High Councils of State, the House of the King, and for Kingdom Relations, for a while.
The Senate decided last year to put the handling of the law proposal in question on hold until after the 2015 general evaluation of the constitutional status of the islands. The Senate did so after consultation with the island governments. The Minister was urged to move along with the evaluation. The discussion on the input of the Island Councils and thus the voters of the three public entities in the First Chamber elections has continued nonetheless. In the Netherlands, the Senate is elected by the Provincial States, in which Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba have no representation. The islands’ representation is the Island Councils.
The initial thought was to have the Island Council members vote along with the Provincial States. This presented a problem because foreigners on the islands have voting rights, and neither the Senate nor the Minister wants foreigners to have an indirect influence on the composition of the Senate, no matter how limited that part is. To eliminate the influence of foreign residents of the islands in the elections for the First Chamber, the Senate has come up with the suggestion to install an Electoral College (“Kiescollege”). Only people with the Dutch nationality would be able to vote for representatives in this organ which in turn would elect the Members of the Senate, together with the Provincial States in the Netherlands.
Minister Plasterk does not support this suggestion. In a recent letter to the Senate, he pointed out that an Electoral College is not an overall representative organ in the proposal to amend the Constitution which has already been approved by the Second Chamber. The minister explained that a new proposal to amend the Constitution would have to be drafted in order to incorporate an Electoral College. This will take time, also because this College would mean the introduction of an entirely new phenomenon in the existing voting rights system and would require consultation by the public entities and the Electoral Council (“Kiesraad”), he stated.
Because an amendment to the Constitution requires the approval of the Second and First Chamber in two successive terms, there would be a risk that residents of the Caribbean Netherlands will not be able to make use of their right to indirectly elect the Senate until 2023. Plasterk said he found this “risk” to be “unacceptable.” Holding the elections for the Island Council and the Electoral College simultaneously is not an option for the minister because the two organs might end up with a different composition which would make the voting position of foreign residents visible. This could lead to (social) unrest in the small island communities, Plasterk stated. To avoid this issue, a theoretical solution could be to hold a separate election for the Electoral College, on the same day of the Provincial States elections in the Netherlands, and to hold the Island Council elections on the same day as the Municipal elections in the Netherlands. “However this will almost surely result in a (very) low turn-out in the elections of the Electoral College. People will not be too eager to go to the polls for a separate Electoral College that only serves to take part in the election of Members of the Senate, especially because the influence of the islands on the composition of the Senate is numerically very limited,” stated Plasterk.
The Senate was not pleased with the minister’s explanation. During a meeting on Tuesday the two Committees decided that they want to have a debate to further deliberate on this issue. For the two Committees the minister’s letter was sufficient for a meeting with the minister which will take place on February 11, 2014.