Deal averts coalition split over mayoral election
10 March 2005, AMSTERDAM — Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende has said there is a "deal in the making" over the contentious issue of introducing direct elections for mayors in the Netherlands.
10 March 2005
AMSTERDAM — Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende has said there is a "deal in the making" over the contentious issue of introducing direct elections for mayors in the Netherlands.
Balkenende declined to comment further, other than to say late-night talks with his deputy prime ministers and the parliamentary leaders of the government parties had been "congenial".
There were fears Balkenende's three-party coalition could split over the issue on Wednesday night.
The meeting in The Hague lasted for more than five hours and concluded early on Thursday morning, NOS Nieuws reported.
The main topic for discussion was the proposal to introduce direct mayoral elections, a policy being championed by the Democrat D66, the smallest of the three government parties.
The introduction of mayoral elections was one of D66's key demands on entering into the coalition. Former D66 leader Thom de Graaf — one of the two deputy prime ministers — was given the task of drawing up the legislation.
He was in favour of a 'big bang' approach which would have led to all mayors in the Netherlands being dismissed in 2006, followed by elections to fill the resulting vacancies. Currently, mayors are appointed by the monarch, Queen Beatrix.
Balkenende's Christian Democrat CDA favoured a more gradual approach, with elections in the big cities first. The Liberal VVD — led by Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Gerrit Zalm — want to give elected mayors more powers than is on offer in De Graaf's proposal.
Main opposition party Labour PvdA has also expressed doubts about the feasibility of De Graaf's plans in recent days, throwing the entire project into doubt.
But D66 emphasised that there could be no backtracking on the commitment given to mayoral elections and that the issue could bring down the government.
Smelling blood, the media gathered outside the emergency summit. After five hours, Balkenende and other officials indicated a deal was close. The leaders of the three parliamentary parties will now work out the details. Talk of a government crisis was dismissed on Thursday morning.
Earlier, De Graaf spoke only briefly to the media at the end of the meeting and he again emphasised that the coalition agreement — which spells out the government's policy, including its commitment to mayoral elections — could not be broken open or renegotiated.
He denied that D66 would be willing to settle for a general pardon for asylum seeks instead of the mayoral election proposal.
RTL Nieuws reported, based on confidential sources, that elections for mayors will go ahead in the big cities in 2006 and the main issues to be ironed out now concern the extent of the powers an elected mayor would have.
Newspaper De Telegraaf also reported sources as saying mayoral elections would be held in the big cities next year and other municipalities would vote for a mayor during local elections in 2010.
[Copyright Expatica News 2005]
Subject: Dutch news