After a ‘political thriller’ the referendum has passed the senate

26 January 2021

After a ‘political thriller’ the referendum has passed the senate

Foto: SP

A ‘political thriller’, is what D66-senator Boris Dittrich called the debate in the First Chamber on Wednesday. The former political leader and current thriller-writer did not stoop to these words on accident. In the Second Chamber, the debate of the day was on the fall of the government, and the child-support affair, which also exposed the gap between the policy machines in The Hague and life of the people in the country. Whilst the Second Chamber debated on the crisis in politics, the First chamber spoke about my proposal for a binding corrective referendum, which could contribute to restoring the confidence in politics.

For a while, it looked like the proposal would not be adopted because GroenLinks and PvdA did not want to vote for it. The final vote was today. It remained tensive for a long time, but we made it. Once more, an important step has been made towards the referendum. 

In the past, MP’s of PvdA, GroenLinks and D66 successfully proposed a binding corrective referendum and got it through the Parliament and Senate. However, because it meant a modification of the constitution, the proposal had to be re-submitted after the 2017 parliamentary elections. By then, PvdA and GroenLinks were against the referendum. They supported the government in abolishing the existing advisory referendum and were no longer prepared to defend their own proposal for a binding corrective referendum. This, however, conflicted with the Constitution, and conflicted with general political decency. Consequently, in name of the SP I took it upon myself to defend the binding referendum in Parliament. There, the proposal did not receive the necessary support, in part due to the lack of support from PvdA and GroenLinks. The referendum seemed dead and buried forever. 

After that, something remarkable happened. Less than a year after this attempted murder, the referendum was completely revived. In 2018, a state commission, under leadership of Johan Remkes, presented an in-depth analysis on the crisis of our democracy and advised a binding corrective referendum as a means to restore the confidence and trust in our democracy. By giving the people the possibility to correct the political establishment. At once I came into action and re-submitted the old proposal of the PvdA, GroenLinks and D66 and managed to obtain a majority last year, with the support of these three parties. This referendum only stands a chance if it receives support in both chambers after the elections – when it has to be debated again. To ensure this, the Parliament installed an ‘turnout threshold’ in the bill to validate the referendum. 

Only recently the referendum was pronounced dead, but now it’s back from never-been-gone.

The ‘turnout threshold’ the Parliament installed in this bill is connected to the turnout of the elections. Which is high, because the turnout of referenda is much lower. To prevent the turnout to being too low, the Parliament has agreed to hold referenda simultaneously with elections, where possible. Then, that problem would be solved. Sometimes, that will not be possible, subsequently making it much harder to reach the threshold. Then, the situation could unfold where there is a clear outcome, but the turnout is just below the threshold, with the consequence that the law it regards will not be automatically repeal the law. I find that very unfortunate, because it detracts from the ‘binding’ character of the referendum. If the turnout threshold is not reached, what remains is the advisory referendum we had in the past. Then it will be up to the parties in Parliament to decide what should be done with the results. 

We’ve spoken on the referendum at the Binnenhof for twenty-five years. Many proposals have been done, and an equal amount of proposals have perished. If I could construct an ideal referendum, this would not be it. But I did not make the ‘SP-referendum’, because this proposal would never have made it. Together with the Parliament, I made a referendum which can make it, if parties are prepared to surpass themselves, to ‘jump of their own shadow’. This bill did not receive the support of the PvdA and GroenLinks, except for GroenLinks Senator Farah Karimi. After the elections, the bill will have to be debated again, and broad support will be necessary. I won’t be there to defend my bill, because I will not return to Parliament after the elections. Another MP of the SP will take on this task. Only recently the referendum was pronounced dead. But now it’s back from never-been-gone. The struggle continues!

You are here