The Daily Herald writes that the Dutch Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk has sent a proposal to the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament to take away the rights of residents of Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba who do not have Dutch nationality to vote in the Island Council elections.
The proposal to amend the Electoral Law (Kieswet) and the Law Public Entities Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba WolBES to adapt the regulation concerning the right of non-Dutch residents to vote in Island Council elections goes against the wishes of the First Chamber of the Dutch Parliament, the Council of State, the Government of Saba and the Electoral Council of the Netherlands.
The law proposal states that only persons with the Dutch nationality of 18 years and older have rights to vote in the Island Council elections and elect the members of the Island Councils when the Dutch Constitution is amended and members of the Island Councils get to elect members of the First Chamber. The law proposal also regulates that a member of the Island Council must have Dutch nationality.
The law proposal to limit the active voting right for the Island Councils of Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba to Dutch nationals is a sort of “back-up” in case the First Chamber, the Senate, amends the Dutch Constitution to make it possible for the members of the Island Councils to elect the Members of the First Chamber. This concerns the passive voting right.
If the law proposal is approved by the Second and First Chambers, something which remains to be seen, foreigners living on the islands would not be able to vote in the next Island Council elections, which are set for March 2015.
The Second Chamber aims to have handled the law proposal before the summer recess. The Dutch Government wants to have the law in effect by December 1, 2014, to facilitate “a prudent preparation for the March 2015 elections.”
The reason to take away the voting rights of foreigners living on the islands has to do with the fact that the Dutch Government, but also the Second and First Chambers, do not want to give non-Dutch nationals any influence on Dutch government policies.
In theory, this group could influence the composition of the Senate, even though it concerns an extremely small fraction, when members of the three Island Councils acquire the right to vote for the members of the First Chamber when in the future the Constitution is amended to accommodate the passive voting rights of the people on the islands.
To eliminate the issue of influence by foreigners, while at the same time warranting the passive right of Dutch nationals on the islands, the Senate has proposed establishing a so-called Electoral College for the Caribbean Netherlands (Kiescollege). Only Dutch nationals would be able to vote for the members of this college, which in turn would elect the members of the Senate.
The Constitution would have to be amended to establish this College, which Plasterk is not prepared to do to accommodate some 1,200 foreign voters on the islands.
The First Chamber has requested that Minister Plasterk discuss the option of an Electoral College with the Second Chamber. Parliament’s Permanent Committee for Home Affairs will post its comments and pose its questions on April 24, the same date the committee will handle the law proposal to take away the voting rights of foreigners on the islands.
The Council of State advised in December 2013 and again in March 2014 against the law proposal to limit voting rights to residents with the Dutch nationality, because it would mean a discrepancy, as non- Dutch residents do have voting rights in the local, municipal elections in the Netherlands. This is in violation of international treaties, because it creates a situation of unequal treatment.
An earlier change to the Electoral Law of July 3, 2013, grants voting rights, active and passive, to non-Dutch nationals on the islands. The Executive Council of Saba wants to hold on to this expansion of what it called the “democratic rights” of people without the Dutch nationality.
“The Council wishes for the voting rights of non-Dutch nationals in the Island Council elections to be maintained, now and in the future,” the Executive Council stated in an August 2013 letter to Minister Plasterk. The Executive Councils of Bonaire and St. Eustatius did not respond.
The Council of State further pointed out that it would be premature to start the procedure to eliminate the active voting rights of foreigners in the Island Council elections ahead of the completion of the first reading to amend the Constitution as well as the general 2015 constitutional evaluation, without finding a solution that has the support of the islands. As such, the Council of State advised to annul the latest law proposal and to include the issue in the debate on the outcome of the 2015 evaluation.
The Electoral Council in the Netherlands wants non-Dutch residents of the islands to have active and passive voting rights for the Island Council elections as long as the Constitution has not been amended.
Amending the Constitution takes several years, as it requires two readings by two consecutive Parliaments. The Senate has postponed the handling of the first reading the proposal to amend the Constitution until after the 2015 general constitutional evaluation.
The Dutch Government stated in the Explanatory Note it sent to the Second Chamber along with the law proposal that it found it more important to eliminate the influence of foreigners on the composition of the Dutch Parliament than the point of view that foreigners should have a voting right in the Island Council, the layer of government closest to this group.