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SP leader in Iraq debate: what is the Prime Minister afraid of?

4 February 2009

SP leader in Iraq debate: what is the Prime Minister afraid of?

Parliament today debated with Premier Jan-Peter Balkenende his announcement that the government would be establishing its own commission to investigate the background to the country's support for the Iraq war. If this is accepted by the governing coalition parties, including the Premier's assertion that any parliamentary questions put during the next nine months need not be answered, it would represent a serious obstruction to parliamentary democracy. So argued SP leader Agnes Kant, who continues to urge the establishment of a real enquiry, one conducted by the people's representatives in parliament.

Agnes KantAgnes Kant's contribution to the debate:

Six years ago the Netherlands gave its political support to the war on Iraq. An illegal war which led to 600.000 deaths, more than four million refugees, grave abuses of human rights and a wave of terror.

The world has been lied to, messed about, fed with false information. Iraq was supposed to possess weapons of mass destruction and Saddam Hussein was an immediate threat. These remain lies.

In the countries with the most significant involvement in this, enquiries have been conducted since the event. But not in the Netherlands.. And this while, also in the Netherlands, a great deal remains unclear. There are still many questions which remain unanswered.

Yet unfortunately there is to be no parliamentary enquiry. Not because the majority of members of parliament don't want such, but because the Labour Party has allowed itself to be taken hostage by the Christian Democrats of the CDA and their obstinate Prime Minister, Balkenende.

When it comes to the search for truth, when it comes also to the rights of parliament, you do not negotiate, but the Labour Party has indeed negotiated these away during talks over the formation of this coalition government. As Minister of State Van Mierlo said quite clearly yesterday, "They gave something away which was not theirs to give."

Time after time the SP and other parliamentary groups have demanded openness and clarity. The SP conducted a vigorous action in pursuit of such, collecting more than 100,000 signatures for openness over Iraq. Yet their remains a lack of any such clarity, questions remain unanswered, and new facts and new questions have come to the surface.

Many unanswered questions

There is no certainty over a request for military support and potential military involvement. No certainty as to what information was available to the cabinet. No certainty as to whether this information was incorrect and over what the cabinet knew about this. No certainty over how the deliberations proceeded. No certainty as to whether the Netherlands received anything in return for its political support. All unanswered questions.

It is therefore hardly surprising that Premier Balkenende, with his stubbornness, has arrived slowly but surely in a tight corner. He has had to dream up excuses.

And this has now happened, last Monday, in the shape of a commission of enquiry, But this pretext of the Prime Minister stands in the way of a parliamentary enquiry, and in this it represents an obstacle to parliamentary democracy. And once again it was the Labour Party which supported this, which has climbed down, because its deceiving of its own voters must be disguised.

I have noted that Ms Hamer (Labour Social Affairs Minister- Ed.) has adopted a pleasing construction. But this isn't really construction – it's obstruction. And I also heard Wouter Bos (Labour leader, and Finance Minister – Ed.) say: “This is a golden opportunity." While all the time parliament was simply allowing itself to be sidelined.

The most important of democratic instruments - parliament has allowed this to slip out of our hands. That can't happen – it shouldn't happen. The SP, for this reason, maintains its commitment to a parliamentary enquiry. This is, when all's said and done, the ultimate instrument which parliament has at its disposal when it comes to the search for truth and the assigning of responsibility. Because let's not forget what we're talking about here – support for a war. The Dutch people have a right to know the whole truth.

What is Balkenende afraid of?

And the sixty-four thousand dollar question is still – why not? Why is the Prime Minister now so determinedly against a parliamentary enquiry? What are you afraid of?

Are you afraid that evidence will be produced that parliament was lied to when it came to the decision-making process?

Are you afraid that members of the government will have to testify under oath that evidence was tampered with, or that our own information was incomplete?

Are you afraid, perhaps, of possible evidence of a relationship between support for the war and the appointment of Jan de Hoop-Scheffer (a Dutchman – Ed.) as NATO boss?

What are you afraid of?

And why does the Labour Party, which was in favour of a parliamentary enquiry, support this get-out? The Prime Minister did not want an enquiry, and yet now we are going to have an enquiry – so was the agreement which existed nevertheless renounced by the Prime Minister? So can't the Labour Party now, despite these developments, choose its own path and support a parliamentary enquiry?

The Prime Minister's argument that the Iraq question is beginning to distract attention from the economic crisis and that the cabinet should now be directing its attention towards the most important economic challenges, is a pathetic excuse. How can this be? Surely a parliamentary enquiry would be conducted by parliament, and not by the cabinet?

Gagged

In the absence of a parliamentary enquiry, the question will always remain: what don't we know? With a parliamentary enquiry, parliament can take its responsibility, as is appropriate to it. We can then summons those involved, and make them testify under oath and in public.

It is unprecedented for the Prime Minister to decide off his own bat that as long as this enquiry runs, standing questions and new questions on the matter cannot be answered. In other words, the cabinet is imposing a gag. On what basis do you imagine that this can be allowed?

I can nevertheless assume that our Prime Minister himself understands well enough that this represents an obstacle to parliamentary democracy? The cabinet has a duty to inform. A representative of the people has a right to information. If you have agreed within your coalition to settle every discussion and every issue that comes up during the enquiry, and put it to bed, then you must know that yourselves. But you and the majority cannot impose that on others! That would be a dictatorship of the majority. The majority would then determine when the opposition would receive an answer and when we would not. This madness must not be allowed to continue! It can't, because it obstructs democracy and refuses to recognise the rights of parliament.

We won't go along with this. We will continue to put necessary questions, which the government will then have to answer. And we are also demanding that questions already put be answered. And by the cabinet, let that be understood.

The blocking of a parliamentary enquiry is a failure of our democracy. If the majority in parliament is not in favour of such an enquiry, okay. But the majority is indeed in favour, and yet there will be no parliamentary enquiry.

The functioning of parliament

Van Mierlo warned yesterday that the structures of power and the monitoring of these structures of power are beginning to give the appearance of a deadly embrace. Because now you see that, in order to benefit the process of power formation, the forming of a cabinet, it was agreed that on a certain point monitoring would no longer be valid. This increases the people's distrust of parliament, of the government and therefore of politics in general.

The government governs, and parliament monitors this. This is, at least, as things should be. But the coalition parties are attempting to make parliament into a body which will be as gentle and meek as a lamb, at the very moment when we need it to be a lion. So, once more, a shameful page is added to this already shameful chapter of our history.

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