The Daily Herald writes that the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament, on Wednesday, requested Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk to research the possibilities of establishing an Electoral College for the Caribbean Netherlands to elect members of the First Chamber, the Senate, as well as a separate Electoral College for Dutch nationals living abroad.
A majority of the Second Chamber agreed during the handling of the proposal to amend the Electoral Law and the Public Entities Law Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba WolBES that a Caribbean Netherlands Electoral College would offer a practical solution for the constitutional dilemma when it comes to electing members of the First Chamber by island residents with Dutch nationality.
The Second Chamber agreed that the issue constituted a true dilemma. Safeguarding the voting rights of persons with the Dutch nationality on the islands for the Senate, by having the members of the Island Councils of Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba co-elect the members of the First Chamber, while at the same time maintaining the voting rights of non-Dutch nationals on the islands and making sure that the latter group does not have any influence on the composition of the First Chamber, is no easy task.
A majority of the Second Chamber did not agree with Plasterk’s proposed solution in the law proposal to take away the voting rights of foreign residents on the island once the Dutch Constitution has been amended to give members of the Island Council the right to co-elect members of the First Chamber.
There is a better, more practical solution to uphold the voting rights of non-Dutch nationals in the Caribbean Netherlands while making sure that persons with the Dutch nationality can (indirectly) vote for the First Chamber, namely by setting up an Electoral College, stated Members of Parliament (MPs) Ronald van Raak of the Socialist Party (SP) and Wassila Hachchi of the Democratic D66 Party. “It is the only way that this group will have a say in local government. An Electoral College is a pragmatic solution that safeguards the democratic right to vote for non-Dutch nationals on the islands,” said Hachchi. She said a “detangling” of the Island Council elections and the elections for the First Chamber was needed, which would be realised through an Electoral College.
Van Raak is a proponent of such an institution. He did not suggest taking away the voting rights of all citizens for the First Chamber and giving everyone the right to vote for the Island Council as an alternative to the constitutional dilemma at hand, as was erroneously stated in Wednesday’s edition of The Daily Herald. Van Raak asked Minister Plasterk to look for a practical solution by, for example, making use of different colour voting ballots in the Island Council elections, one for Dutch nationals and one for non-Dutch nationals. “All votes would count for the Island Council, but only the votes of those with the Dutch nationality would count for the College of Electors (kiesmannen) that participates in the elections of the First Chamber,” Van Raak stated.
MPs Gert-Jan Segers of the ChristianUnion (CU) and Roelof Bisschop of the reformed SGP party supported the suggestion of coming with an alternative, practical solution, for example through an Electoral College. Segers and Bisschop, but also Van Raak, questioned the timing of the law proposal, which according to Segers affects the democratic rights of the people on the islands. “Why does the Dutch Government want to settle this matter now? The constitutional evaluation is pending. Why not wait on that,” said Segers. Bisschop called the law proposal “premature,” a view that is shared by the Council of State, he pointed out. Van Raak said there was sufficient time because the handling of the change to the Constitution would take place after the evaluation anyhow. “Why not send the minister to consult with the islands about practical solutions and to maintain the voting rights of foreign residents.”
The liberal democratic VVD party agreed with an Electoral College, but suggested giving it a broader format by including the some 700,000 voters with the Dutch nationality living abroad, who currently do not have voting rights for the First Chamber. MP Joost Taverne (VVD) said his suggested present three solutions in one as it would mean that both Dutch nationals on the islands and those living in other countries could vote for the Senate, while foreign residents on the islands could still vote for the Island Council while excluding their influence on the composition of the Senate. Taverne said that Dutch citizens abroad contacted him on a regular basis to express their desire about having a more active role in the election process in their native country. He said that a broad Electoral College would also eliminate the minister’s argument that establishing an Electoral College for which the Dutch Constitution would have to be amended just to safeguard the voting right of a relatively small group of foreigners on the islands would be “disproportionate.” Taverne asked the minister to investigate the possibility of establishing such a broad Electoral College.
Plasterk was not enthusiastic about this proposal, but said he was willing to look at it. “However, it is not my preference,” said the minister.
After a short adjournment for deliberation by the representatives of the various parties that were present, it was decided to request the minister to research three possibilities:
an Electoral College for the Caribbean Netherlands;
a broad Electoral College for Dutch nationals abroad,
and a possible combination of those two options.
The minister has to report to the Second Chamber before January 1, 2015, after which the second term of the handling of the law proposal to change the Caribbean Netherlands Electoral Law (Kieswet BES) will resume.
A vast majority in the First Chamber is in favour of an Electoral College for the Caribbean Netherlands. The Senate earlier this year decided to postpone the handling of the amendment to the Constitution to define the public entity status of Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba, and to arrange the voting rights of the Caribbean Netherlands for the Senate until after the constitutional evaluation in 2015. The Senate also asked Minister Plasterk to look at the option of an Electoral College.
The First and Second Chamber unilaterally agree that it is undesirable that non-Dutch nationals on the islands have influence on the composition of the Senate, no matter how small that influence might be. It is the principle that counts in this issue.
Plasterk agrees that foreign residents should not have any influence on the Senate, but wants to eliminate that dilemma by taking away the voting rights of this group for the Island Council. The Dutch Government prepared a law proposal doing just that which would go into effect once the Constitution has been amended to give Island Council members the right to co-elect the members of the First Chamber. Plasterk pointed out during the handling of this law proposal on Wednesday that in three of the four countries of the Dutch Kingdom persons without a Dutch passport do not have voting rights for their local government, the Parliaments of Aruba, Curaçao and St. Maarten. Only in the Netherlands, non-Dutch nationals have voting rights for the layer of government that is closest to them, namely the Municipal Council. “It is not an incredibly unknown situation that foreign residents don’t have voting rights. This group cannot vote on Aruba, Curaçao, St. Maarten and neither can they in our neighbouring countries like Germany and France,” said Plasterk. The minister announced that in the Caribbean Netherlands it concerned a group of some 2,000 people, and not 1,121 as stated earlier.