7 January 2004
Professor Bart Tromp of Political Science at Leiden University and editor of the Yearbook for Democratic Socialism is a declared enemy of any change in the electoral system of the Netherlands which would in any way result in the direct election of mayors, the prime minister and both houses of Parliament, the Tweede Kamer (Lower Chamber) and the Senate.
He would prefer to keep the system as it is, but if is to be changed or renewed, the change must not affect the electoral system of proportional representation and the political party system which this electoral system sustains.
What Professor Tromp most fears is the election of someone, such as, for example, the late Pim Fortuyn, to public office who does not belong to one of the existing parties and whose election would, in effect bypass existing parties. The professor makes a distinction then between ‘representative democracy’ and ‘plebiscite democracy’. The clearest example of a plebiscite was the one in France in 1804, which made Napoleon emperor.
This is not an election in any sense of the word. When holding a plebiscite, an issue is put to the people. They must decide yes or no. There is no need for political parties. The people in the referendum are not being asked to make a choice between this or that politician. It is an instrument used by an existing ruler or government to confirm or reject a certain proposition, e.g. should Napoleon become emperor or not?
The reference, then, by Professor Tromp to ‘plebiscite democracy’ is an attempt to obfuscate the issue, and the issue is the answer to the question what is wrong with the existing political system in the Netherlands. The answer to this question is relatively simple. There are many who are shut out of politics by the existing political structure. One such case is the late Pim Fortuyn and his followers.
What is there about the existing political structure which shuts out participation in the Dutch democratic process? We are told that the ‘essential problem’, with reference to the last two elections for the Second Chamber, is that Democrats’66 failed to take an ‘ideological’ stand on the issues leading up to the election. This enabled the party to decide on the basis of the outcome of the election which combination coalition would be most beneficial for its constituency.