Dutch government to scrap referendums, without holding a referendum on it

Despite fierce resistance from opposition parties, a narrow majority in the Tweede Kamer supports the government's plan to abolish the advisory referendum. There will also be no referendum on this abolishment, AD reports.

D66 Minister Kasja Ollongren of Home Affairs faced a united opposition in the Tweede Kamer, the lower house of Dutch parliament, on Tuesday. Even the SGP, which is against referenda, finds it legally questionable to abolish the referendum without giving the Dutch public a chance to vote on the matter. "We welcome the fact that the referendum will be abolished, but it must be done in a legally pure way", SGP parliamentarian Roelof Bisschop said.

The government wants to get rid of advisory referenda because they "confuse" voters, according to the newspaper. Last year the Council of State warned that the thoughtless use of referendums and other forms of "people's democracy" sooner or later undermines the functioning of the Dutch representative democracy and the rule of law.

Tuesday's debate was a follow-up to last week, when the debate on this matter was postponed so that the Council of State could further explain the advice it gave. The Council of State announced that the government's plan to abolish the referendum is "legally sustainable". 

The Council of State's advice was not well received by a number of opposition parties. "I still think that legal certainty is at stake", said GroenLinks parliamentarian Nevin Özütok. "It's not legally right to change the rules during the game." 

"The referendum will go into the trash because the government wants it", SP parliamentarian Ronald van Raak said. "But the referendum is not for the government, the referendum is for the voters."

FvD leader Thierry Baudet called Ollongren an "assassin of democracy", though Kamer president Khadija Arib immediately told him to retract the statement. He filed a motion of no confidence against the Minister, but it was only supported by the PVV and animal party PvdD. 

The Tweede Kamer will officially vote on abolishing the referendum on Thursday. The vote is expected to pass, as the coalition parties VVD, D66, CDA and ChristenUnie have a narrow majority in the Kamer. 

The topic of referendums has been controversial since the Ukraine referendum in April 2016. The referendum had a turnout of only 32 percent, but 61 percent of those voters voted against a cooperation agreement between the European Union and the Ukraine. While the results of the referendum were not binding, it did leave the government in a bind. Prime Minister Mark Rutte had to scramble to find a solution that would both address the concerns of the people of the Netherlands, and keep the trust in the Netherlands as international ally in tact. Rutte himself described the results of the referendum as "disastrous". Dutch newspapers called it an "embarrassment" , "a dilemma" and "a recipe for discontent".