First, Second Chambers say ‘no’ to voting rights
THE HAGUE--The Dutch Parliament’s First and Second Chambers are not in favour of giving residents of future Countries Curaçao and St. Maarten active voting rights in Dutch Parliamentary elections. With the exception of the one-member OSF faction in the First Chamber, all First and Second Chamber parties present at Tuesday’s joint meeting of the Permanent Committee for Antillean and Aruban Affairs NAAZ stated that they were against granting active voting rights to the islands.
The factions stated this in response to a recommendation of the Democratic Deficit Committee. The Committee, chaired by Netherlands Antilles Deputy Minister Plenipotentiary in The Hague Mavis Brooks-Salomon, had suggested allowing Dutch citizens of the two countries active voting rights as a means of reducing the democratic deficit within the Kingdom. The BES islands Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba will automatically acquire voting rights in the Second Chamber elections when they become part of the Netherlands on October 10.
(OTR Editors Note: The new status of 'public entity' being crafted for the BES islands by the Dutch would not provide for a full measure of self-government through political integration as required by international instruments, and is tantamount to annexation. The Dutch have thus far blocked Bonaire's efforts to have a referendum (originally scheduled for 14th March) so that the people could make an informed decision on a range of options consistent with international law).
The (Democratic Deficit) Committee had analysed the democratic deficit and come up with suggestions that were made in a report called “Choosing for the Kingdom,” presented on November 11, 2009.
The Dutch Caribbean partners within the Kingdom generally believe that the Netherlands plays a too dominant role in the Kingdom, especially because decisions relating to the Kingdom are made by the Netherlands.
“We don’t see any benefit in granting voting rights,” said Member of the Second Chamber Bas Jan van Bochove of the governing Christian Democratic Party CDA. “We are not in favour of active voting rights,” said Member of the Second Chamber John Leerdam of the Labour Party PvdA, which forms part of the coalition. “We have our doubts as to whether this is even possible,” said Christian Union (CU), the smallest coalition partner, represented by member of the Second Chamber Cynthia Ortega-Martina.
Opposition parties agreed with the ruling parties on this one. Member of the Second Chamber Johan Remkes of the liberal democratic VVD party said “no” to the Committee’s recommendation. “I don’t think it would be proportional,” said Remkes, referring to the small size of the islands compared to the Netherlands.
“Active voting rights are not the solution to the problem of the democratic deficit,” said Member of the Second Chamber Ronald van Raak of the Socialist Party (SP). Member of the Second Chamber Hero Brinkman of the Party for Freedom PVV said things should be placed in the right context, with the Netherlands having a population of some 16.5 million.
Member of the First Chamber Jan Laurier of the green left party GroenLinks said his faction couldn’t give a definite “yes” or “no” to the recommendation on voting rights.
Little brother trauma
Only Henk ten Hoeve of the OSF faction in the First Chamber supported the Committee’s suggestion. He agreed that active voting rights would reduce the democratic deficit, since the people of the islands would feel more involved in the Dutch Parliament. Ten Hoeve noted that the Antillean electorate was very small compared to that of the Netherlands. Ten Hoeve said voting rights would positively contribute to reducing what he called the “little brother trauma.”
Liaisons from the Antilles and Aruba Parliaments, and in future, from the Parliaments of the three Dutch Caribbean countries, as well as video-conferencing – other suggestions of the Committee – would have less effect in reducing the “little brother trauma,” said Ten Hoeve. The other parties agreed that video-conferencing was not a bad suggestion, but all doubted that it would work. “It will only work for five minutes,” envisioned Bas Jan van Bochove.
However, parties did acknowledge the importance of communicating between the parliaments, but doing so through liaisons was considered a bad idea. “Liaisons are superfluous and would only lead to more bureaucracy,” said Ronald van Raak.
The semi-annual Parliamentary Consultation in the Kingdom POK should be done away with immediately, agreed most parties. “POK is dead and we should not make any efforts to revive it,” said Johan Remkes. “Whatever happens, no more POK,” said Hero Brinkman. John Leerdam and Cynthia Ortega-Martijn said POK in its current form obviously didn’t work, just as the Committee had stated. Leerdam and Ortega-Martijn said parties on both sides of the ocean should discuss how to better structure their contacts before definitely killing POK.
“You should not throw out your old shoes before you have new ones,” said Leerdam. “We should give the meetings more content and work with themes,” said Ortega-Martijn.
Brinkman said that meetings between the Parliaments, if they were to continue, had to be public. “We are very much in favour of transparency,” said Brinkman. Remkes and Van Bochove agreed that contact meetings between the Parliaments, in any case, needed to be shortened to one or two days. “Meetings have to be leaner and meaner,” said Remkes.
State of the Kingdom
All parties supported the Committee’s recommendation to have an annual so-called State of the Kingdom, presented by the Kingdom Council of Ministers. In this State of the Kingdom, Government would reflect on developments in the Kingdom. “It will lead to more pondering about the quality of our Kingdom,” said Jan Laurier. Van Raak warned that the State of the Kingdom should not be overdone. “We should not make a big circus out of it,” he said.
Parties showed much appreciation for the work of the Committee and described the report as “good” and “broad.” It was agreed that the First and Second Chambers would continue their deliberations on the report until after State Secretary of Kingdom Relations Ank Bijleveld-Schouten had submitted the formal response to the report on behalf of the Dutch Government.
(OTR Editors Note: The constitutional crisis in Bonaire and the Dutch resistance to the self-determination of the people of that island, is the subject of a forthcoming article in OTR's sister publication Overseas Territories Report, and will be published on this site in due course).