First Chamber persists on discussion about Electoral Collage

The Daily Herald writes that the special Electoral College (Kiescollege) for the Caribbean Netherlands to secure the voting rights of Dutch citizens in Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba for the First Chamber of the Dutch Parliament without any influence of foreign residents of the islands is still on the radar. The First Chamber, or the Senate, has prompted Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations to go back to the Second Chamber to discuss the possibility of establishing an Electoral College so Dutch nationals on the islands can indirectly elect the members of the First Chamber through this special body.

The minister sent a letter to the Second Chamber on Friday in which he offered to enter discussions, but added that he only considered this “useful” if there was a majority support to adapt the law proposal which arranges the voting rights on the three islands and which was already approved by the Second Chamber last year.

Plasterk’s move is the result of a February 10, 2015, decision of the Senate’s Permanent Committees for Home Affairs, the High Councils of State/ General Affairs and the Royal House, and for Kingdom Relations. The two committees decided to defer the handling of the law proposal to adapt the voting rights of non-Dutch residents of the Caribbean Netherlands.

The committees are collectively convinced that establishing an Electoral College would solve the issues of arranging both voting rights for Dutch nationals and foreign residents on the islands. According to the Senate, an Electoral College is the answer to comply with three points of departure:

– Dutch citizens in the Caribbean Netherlands should have influence on the composition of the First Chamber,

– non-Dutch residents should have voting rights for the Island Council,
– non-Dutch residents should have no influence on the composition of the First Chamber.

Plasterk wants to solve the matter by simply taking away the voting rights of foreign residents once the Dutch Constitution has been adapted and members of the Island Council can co-elect the members of the Senate, just as the Provincial States in the Netherlands do.

The minister considered it too cumbersome and disproportionate to establish an Electoral College, for which the Dutch Constitution would have to be amended, for a group of some 2,000 mainly Colombians and Venezuelans living on the islands. His justification has been that foreigners have no voting rights anywhere else in the Dutch Caribbean.

The First Chamber is against taking away the voting rights of this group and made this abundantly clear during a meeting with Plasterk on December 16 last year. Foreigners should, just like Dutch nationals, be able to have a say in their immediate living environment and the layer of politics closest to them, which is the Island Council. At the same time, foreigners should not be able to influence the composition of the First Chamber through the Island Council members. “The only possibility that we see is not to have the Island Council act as an Electoral College, but to create a separate Electoral College. It is not pretty, far from that, but another solution is even less pretty,” said Senator Frank van Kappen of the liberal democratic VVD party on December 16.

Senator Thom de Graaf of the Democratic Party D66 during that meeting urged Plasterk to go along with the First Chamber on the issue of the Electoral College to improve his chances of getting the needed approval of the Second Chamber. “There is no alternative, because the minister will be confronted with obstructions here if the Second Chamber doesn’t cooperate. His amendment to the Constitution will not happen,” said De Graaf.

Foreigners will be able to vote in the upcoming Island Council elections on March 18. However Dutch nationals won’t have influence on the composition of the First Chamber in this year’s election because the Constitution needs to be amended to arrange that.

Plasterk noted in his letter that he sent to Parliament on Friday that the Dutch Government considered it of “great importance” that Dutch nationals of the Caribbean Netherlands would be able to execute influence on the composition of the First Chamber at the next elections in 2019. The minister stated that this can only be realized if a change is made to the current proposal to amend the Constitution, a socalled “novelle.” He stated that starting this procedure only made sense if the majority in the Second Chamber supported this. “It needs to be considered that it will require a great effort to realise a timely change. The consultation of the Caribbean Netherlands public entities alone will require at least three months,” stated Plasterk, who expected that it would take until early 2016 before a new law proposal was ready for submitting.

The minister sent a paper on the options for a Caribbean Netherlands Electoral College to the Dutch Parliament mid-December 2014. The Permanent Committee for Home Affairs of the Second Chamber has put the minister’s February 27 letter on the agenda of the next procedural meeting this Thursday.

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