Second Chamber divided on voting rights on islands

THE HAGUE - The Dutch Parliament's Second Chamber is divided on whether to grant non-Dutch nationals residing in Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba voting rights in Island Council elections.

From the law proposal to change the Dutch Constitution to accommodate the constitutional position of Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba as public entities of The Netherlands, it becomes clear that the Dutch Government wants to constitutionally prevent active and passive voting rights for persons on the islands who don't have the Dutch nationality. This would make it impossible for non-Dutch nationals to have an indirect influence on the composition of the Dutch Parliament's First Chamber through Island Council elections.

The Public Entities Law for the islands (WolBES) and the Electoral law already regulate that only persons with Dutch nationality have active voting rights in Island Council elections and passive voting rights for the First Chamber, through the Island Council.

The liberal democratic VVD party and the Socialist Party (SP) are dead set against non-Dutch nationals having an influence on the composition of the First Chamber by allowing members of the Island Council to vote for a new Senate.

According to the VVD, active and passive voting rights for the Island Council elections, which ultimately help determine the composition of the First Chamber, should be reserved for persons with Dutch nationality. "The First Chamber partly determines the structure of Dutch society; it forms the legislative power together with the Second Chamber and in part decides foreign policy."

Calling it an "undesirable" situation, the SP stated, "The Dutch Government seems to allow members of the Island Councils to elect Members of the First Chamber and not to give non-Dutch residents passive voting rights," but "in this construction, do elect members of the Island Council, and as such they have an influence on the elections for the First Chamber."

The VVD mentioned that Parliament had approved an amendment by its former colleague Member of the Second Chamber Johan Remkes, also of the VVD, not to give active voting rights for Island Council elections to non-Dutch nationals on the islands. "Parliament has already taken a decision on this," stated the VVD.

The SP pointed out that non-Dutch nationals in The Netherlands don't have voting rights either. The party asked government to clarify whether it was correct that people without the Dutch nationality could have an influence on the elections for the First Chamber, while non-Dutch nationals in The Netherlands didn't have the same rights, as they may only vote in municipal elections, which don't have an influence on the composition of the First Chamber.

According to the Christian Union (CU), "fundamental rights" of the islands' residents are being violated by restricting the voting rights of non-Dutch nationals in the Constitution. In its observations on the law proposal to change the Constitution, the opposition party stated that Government "created inequality of status and doesn't even bother to explain why this would be justified."

The Labour Party PvdA speaks of a "very peculiar" law proposal, as non-Dutch nationals in The Netherlands have voting rights in municipal elections. According to the opposition party, there is even the risk that "the democratic legitimacy of the Island Councils is undermined by this enforced restriction of the electorate."

The governing Christian Democratic Party CDA hasn't stated its opinion on this matter, while other parties such as the Party for Freedom PVV, the Democratic D66 party and the green left party GroenLinks haven't published their observations on the law proposal.

12 march 2012

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