Some parties in the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament are questioning the law proposal of the Dutch Government to take away the voting rights of foreign citizens of the Dutch public entities Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba, writes The Daily Herald.
Representatives of the Socialist Party (SP), the Labour Party PvdA, the Christian Democratic Party CDA, the Democratic Party D66 and the reformed Christian party SGP have indicated their criticism in a report of the Second Chamber’s Permanent Committee for Home Affairs that was recently sent to government.
Late March 2014, Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk sent a law proposal to the Second Chamber to amend the Electoral Law and the Law Public Entities Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba to adapt the regulation relating to the voting right of non-Dutch citizens in the Island Council elections. The Dutch Government wants to take away the voting right of foreign residents of the three islands when the Dutch Constitution is amended to give Members of the Island Council voting right for Members of the First Chamber of the Dutch Parliament, the Senate. Foreign residents will maintain their voting right until the Constitution has been amended.
Of all parties that submitted written remarks and questions in relation to the law proposal, the SP was most clear in indicating that it was against restricting the voting right of foreigners on the islands. The SP considered it “desirable” that non-Dutch residents have voting rights for the local Island Council, “just as non-Dutch residents in the European part of our country have voting rights for the municipal councils.” The party pointed out that the Island Council after all was the political representation of the local community and that on this local level, non-Dutch residents have a right to cast their vote.
The CDA party shared the general position of government, as well as that of the Senate and the Second Chamber, that foreigners should not have any influence on the composition of the Senate through the Island Councils, but at the same time found that justice had to be done to the point of departure that non-Dutch residents should have voting rights for the layer of government closest to them, namely the Island Council.
The SP party wanted to know whether the Dutch Government had consulted the island governments to find a practical solution for this “complex constitutional dilemma.” “It amazes the SP members that a more practical solution has not been sought which can also count on the support of the population of the islands.” The party also wanted to know why government didn’t await the general evaluation of the constitutional relations in 2015.
The D66 party questioned the timing of the law proposal since the process to amend the Constitution was still ongoing, as was the research into the suggestion of the Senate to establish a so-called Electoral College (Kiescollege) for the public entities which would have the sole task of electing the members of the Senate. Only people with the Dutch nationality on the islands would have the right to vote for the members of the Electoral College. (See related story) If Parliament were to adopt the proposal for an Electoral College, the current law proposal to take away the voting right of foreigners would have to be annulled, D66 remarked. The party asked the Dutch Government whether it was possible to draw up a “complete vision” on the voting right for the public entities. “This way we can prevent legislation from jumping to all sides and the people of the islands would know where they stand.”
The SGP party asked why the law proposal in question had been submitted at this specific time. “Isn’t it more logical to submit this law proposal simultaneously with the second reading to amend the Constitution regarding the elections of the First Chamber so that a proper solution can be found?” The SGP inquired whether there were possibilities for alternative, more sustainable solutions.
The PvdA party was also critical of the law proposal that Minister Plasterk sent to Parliament. “The PvdA members conclude that the Explanatory Note doesn’t shine in comprehensibility and accessibility.” The PvdA questioned whether the law proposal was legally tenable and pointed out, just like the CDA, that in the opinion of the Council of State it was against the international and European human rights convention to take away the voting rights of foreigners on the islands. The members further reminded government of the ruling of the Joint Court of Aruba, Curaçao, St. Maarten and of Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba that non-Dutch residents should have active voting rights.
The liberal democratic VVD party, in government together with the PvdA, made clear that was not a proponent of active or passive voting rights of non- Dutch residents for theIsland Council elections when these Island Councils also voted for the members of the Senate.
The law proposal will continue its course of being handled in the Second Chamber after government has provided its response to the remarks and questions by the Permanent Committee for Home Affairs. If the law proposal is approved by Dutch Parliament, 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.