The reason why I’ve been writing about a referendum law for the past two years is that we don’t have one.
Groups have been popping up demanding for far-reaching constitutional changes in our country; from having The Netherlands gobble us up as municipality, integrating into the EU as ultra-peripheral region (UPG) or becoming independent. Whilst I don’t take away anyone’s right to fight for constitutional change, it is scary that that this can take place without properly consulting the people via a referendum.
Curaçao currently doesn’t have a legally defined referendum process. In fact, according to our Constitution, changing the Constitution is possible once 2/3 of Parliament agrees. There is no mention of referendum in our Constitution.
Yes, we’ve had two consultative, non-binding referendums before. Both were conducted without a referendum law, including the 2009 referendum on whether to accept the proposed agreement to change constitutional status and dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles which was approved by 51.99% of voters. The fact that no (legal) qualifying majority was ever defined for such an important constitutional change, led to much debate and division on the island.
First, the Constitution should be amended and state that any change of constitutional status must be decided by referendum.
In a referendum law 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.
This law 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.
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. We’ve been warned, again.