Second Chamber wants debate on islands’ Electoral College

It seems that Dutch Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk will be left little choice but to introduce a special Electoral College for the Caribbean Netherlands to safeguard the voting of both Dutch and foreign nationals on Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba. This writes The Daily Herald. The Permanent Committee for Home Affairs of the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament decided during a procedural meeting on Thursday, that it wants a general debate with Minister Plasterk to discuss this matter on short term.

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Committee Member Wassila Hachchi of the Democratic Party D66 urged to have this debate within the shortest possible time, so the Second Chamber can proceed to handle the law proposal to establish an Electoral College, through which Dutch citizens in the Caribbean Netherlands would (indirectly) vote for the First Chamber, or the Senate. D66 has been championing the setting up of an Electoral College. Ronald van Raak of the Socialist Party (SP) supported the proposal for a debate with the minister. “The Electoral College has to be established, there is no doubt about that in the First Chamber and I think also the Second Chamber,” he said. Van Raak, and his former colleague of the liberal democratic VVD party Johan Remkes, had already urged government to find a solution for the issue of voting rights in the Caribbean Netherlands since 2010, when Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba became Dutch public entities. “Remkes and I started this discussion in 2010, and almost five years later there is still no solution. This matter needs to be resolved for once and for all,” Van Raak told The Daily Herald.

An Electoral College would solve two concerns of the Dutch Parliament: persons with the Dutch nationality would have a say in the composition of the First Chamber, whereas foreign nationals would not. Hachchi referred to this approach as “detangling” the elections for the Island Council and the Senate. According to Hachchi and Van Raak, foreign residents on the islands should have the right to vote in the Island Council elections, since that is the body that represents the government closest to them. In the Netherlands, foreigners can also vote in municipal elections, but not for the Provincial States or in any other elections for that matter.

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Hachchi and Van Raak, but also almost the entire Senate, are against the proposal of the Dutch Government to eliminate the voting rights of foreigner residents in the Caribbean Netherlands, once the Constitution has been amended to grant members of the Island Council the right to co-elect the members of the First Chamber.

“Local politics is about everyone, Dutch and non-Dutch people. The Island Council is the only way for non-Dutch residents, who have been living there for years, to have a say and to express their involvement. You should want to give them access to their democratic rights,” stated Hachchi in a debate in September last year. “We consider it important that foreign residents can vote in the Island Council elections, because they live there and take part in the local community. Every other solution than setting up an Electoral College will result in big problems, and the exclusion of a group of people. And, that is unacceptable,” said Van Raak.

Hachchi and Van Raak want a speedy handling of this matter. “Plasterk has to execute the wish of Parliament. But I think the minister now also sees that this practical solution is the only way to go,” said Van Raak. “We will have elections for the First Chamber through the Provincial States on March 18, but the Caribbean Netherlands won’t take part. That has to change,” said Van Raak. A date still has to be set for the debate with Plasterk.

The Senate last month decided to defer the handling of a law proposal regulating the voting rights of foreign citizens on the islands, essentially forcing Minister Plasterk to go back to the Second Chamber to discuss the introduction of the Electoral College for the Caribbean Netherlands through an amendment of the Dutch Constitution. The minister has argued in various debates with Parliament and related documents that he considered it “disproportionate” to establish an Electoral College and amend the Constitution for a relatively small group, some 2,000 in total, of whom most originate from Colombia, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic.

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