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Public entity foreign resident voting rights still a dilemma for residents BES-islands

SATURDAY, 16 NOVEMBER 2013

THE HAGUE–The voting right of foreign, non-Dutch residents of Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba for the First Chamber of the Dutch Parliament, the Senate, is a dilemma for the Dutch Government.

Dutch Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk is inclined not to give this group of residents voting rights for the Island Council elections to solve this dilemma. “It is undesirable that non-Dutch nationals have an influence on the policies that are executed on a national (Dutch) level.”

There are no doubts that residents of the three islands with the Dutch nationality should have the opportunity to have a voice in the Senate as part of the Dutch Constellation. However, the influence that non-Dutch nationals on the islands might have because they can vote for the local Island Council, which in turn elects the Senate, is considered a problem in The Hague.

The Second and First Chambers have objected to the influence that non-Dutch residents on the islands might have, even though it is extremely small. Members of both Chambers have argued that the passive voting right for the Senate should be exclusively reserved for persons with the Dutch nationality, also because the First Chamber is an important element in the shaping of the structure of Dutch society as it forms the legislative power together with the Second Chamber.

Minister Plasterk sent a letter to the First Chamber last week in which he outlined the different options to give Dutch and non-Dutch residents of the Caribbean Netherlands influence on the composition of their Island Council while at the same time restricting the influence of non-Dutch nationals of the islands on the Senate’s composition. None of these options are viable or logical, according to the Minister.

One of the options is to elect an Electoral College (Kiescollege) aside from the Island Council. This college would solely have the task to elect Members of the First Chamber. “The active and passive voting right for the members of this college would be solely granted to Dutch residents of the Caribbean Netherlands,” Plasterk stated in his letter.

However, there are some objections to this option, the Minister stated. The law proposal to amend the Dutch Constitution to formalise the constitutional status of Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba in the Constitution and to arrange the involvement of the islands’ general organs of representation (the Island Councils) in the election of Members of the First Chamber doesn’t include the option of an Electoral College.

A new law proposal to amend the Constitution would be needed in order to establish the Electoral College. A more extensive regulation would be needed to establish this college. This procedure would further delay the already lengthy process to amend the Constitution with as a possible result that residents of the islands cannot attain influence in the composition of the First Chamber before 2019.

Another objection against the Electoral College is the fact that it is complex to have elections for two bodies, the Island Council and the Electoral College by an electorate that is only differentiated by their nationality.

Plasterk said it was “not unthinkable” that the two bodies would have a different (political) composition as the number of voters and seats are very limited on the islands and one residual seat could make a big difference. “This can have an undesirable effect for the position and acceptance of foreigners.”

Another option is to have Dutch residents of the Caribbean Netherlands cast their influence on the composition of the Senate via the province. Adding the Caribbean Netherlands to an existing province of the Netherlands or creating the new province Caribbean Netherlands could be alternatives.

However, none of these two alternatives are viable, according to Plasterk. “Adding the Caribbean Netherlands to an existing province is not an obvious option, also because of the large distance to the Netherlands. Establishing a separate province Caribbean Netherlands would be disproportionate considering the small scale of the islands.”

The Minister noted that he didn’t want to anticipate on the general evaluation in 2015 of the first five years of the new constitutional relations with the Caribbean Netherlands. “After the evaluation it can be decided to maintain the public entity status or to change that into the status of municipality. An entire new situation would evolve in the last case.”

Plasterk supported the passive voting right for Dutch nationals living in the Caribbean Netherlands so they can have an influence on the composition of the Senate. He didn’t consider it desirable that non-Dutch residents would get an influence in the composition of the Senate. “Because it is undesirable that non-Dutch nationals have an influence on the policies that are executed on a national level,” he stated.

In the Minister’s opinion, non-Dutch nationals on the islands should get no active and passive voting right for the Island Council elections. He admitted that this would create a dissimilarity between non-Dutch nationals living in the Netherlands and those living in the Caribbean Netherlands because the first group has a voting right for the Municipal Councils.

“This dissimilarity is justified in my opinion since members of the Municipal Councils don’t have a voting right for the First Chamber,” he stated. The Provincial States in the Netherlands elect the Members of the Senate.

The Senate’s Permanent Committees for Home Affairs, General Affairs and Kingdom Relations will handle the Minister’s letter in a meeting this Tuesday.

Source: The Daily Herald, St. Maarten

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