Referendum yes, but not without a referendum law

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It’s amazing how some Dutch Members of Parliament (MP) keep busy these days. Some can be found promoting cartoons that insult the Prophet  Muhammad. Others dream up proposals for the introduction of two types of passports and two different categories of Dutch citizens. So I guess it should be no surprise that a MP recently submitted a proposition making it possible for Curaçao to become independent without holding a referendum or a 2/3 majority in Parliament for that matter. This may get the juices flowing among the nationalists in The Netherlands, but changing our constitutional status will only be decided in Willemstad by the people of this island, thank you.

I won’t waste time discussing this meritless proposal. Let’s realize that while it’s correct to demand a referendum before any status change, Curaçao currently doesn’t have a legally defined referendum process. One that’s transparent and able to withstand political manipulation and bullying. We need to change that.

First, constitutional status change is not limited to independence as some want us to believe. It equally applies to becoming part of The Netherlands territory (province model) or an EU ultra-peripheral regions (UPG) or merging with another state such as Venezuela. In my opinion, our constitution should be amended and state that any change of constitutional status must be decided by referendum. 

We need to determine how a referendum may be initiated. Options are: (1) the legislative referendum whereby Parliament refers a measure to the voters for their approval; (2) the popular referendum, a measure that appears on the ballot as a result of a voter petition (conditioned upon a minimum of valid signatures), or (3) both the legislative and the popular referendum.

We need to define the types of referendums. 1. the mandatory referendum i.e. if a proposal passes, the Government or appropriate authority is compelled to implement it: 2. the optional referendum whereby the consequences of the vote may or may not be legally binding or 3. both the mandatory and optional referendum.

It’s very important that the referendum process be in the hands of an independent electorate authority. The future referendum ordinance should also specify per type of referendum: (1) when a referendum is valid, i.e. establish the minimum amount of valid votes; (2) what margins should be upheld for a proposal to pass (simple majority, 2/3 or 3/4 of the votes) and (3) who can cast his/her ballot.

This is by no means a complete blueprint. It’s the beginning of a meaningful conversation. I’ve proposed both a referendum ordinance as an independent electorate authority back in 2012.  Let’s hope politicians will picks this up.

It’s correct to say that a referendum is needed to change our constitutional status. We must be aware however that we need a clear referendum process anchored in our constitution. One that’s transparent, not open to multiple interpretations and certainly not prone to manipulation by politicians and other groups. If that’s not the case, what’s the value of having a referendum?

Istanbul, Turkey

Author: alexdavidrosaria

Alex Rosaria is from Curaçao. He has a MBA from University of Iowa. He was Member of Parliament, Minister of Economic Affairs, State Secretary of Finance and United Nations Development Programme Officer in Africa and Central America. He is an independent consultant active in Asia and the Pacific.

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