All posts by rrustema

About rrustema

Initiator and manager of petities.nl (Dutch national petitions website)

Long term policy

During the opening of the new academic year the ‘rector magnificus’ of the University of Groningen, Elmer Sterken, made a remark about politicians. NRC Handelsblad quotes him (7 September 2012) with: “Because of the terms of their service in office politicians are ‘blind’ for arguments relating to the long term.”

Now, if our governors are no longer politicians but appointed by politicians, they can outlive their parliament. After all, if they do well, they do not have to step down after elections. They can just continue as long as parliament trusts them to do their job well.

Transcription BNR Nieuwsradio interview 20 August 2010

On 20 Augustus 2010, after the Dutch elections of 9 June 2010, but before the Rutte government starting 14 October 2010, I was interviewed on BNR Nieuwsradio by Paul van Liempt (MP3, 10 minutes and 40 seconds in Dutch).

Paul van Liempt: Now another gentleman is joining us, Mr ReindeR Rustema. Hear what he came up with. He says: “The Netherlands can be more democratic. Ministers should apply for their position. Not political background, but governing capacities should be decisive. A cabinet filled with technocratic ministers without a political party and a parliament as a selection committee. That would be the outcome. Sounds revolutionary, looks like it at first glance, but according to Mr Rustema not even the law needs to be adapted for it. It is his idea, ReindeR Rustema. He is a teacher in new media at the University of Amsterdam and the initiator of the website petitie dot nl. Mr Rustema, good morning.

ReindeR Rustema: Attention please, it is petities.nl with an s.

Paul van Liempt: ReindeR Rustema, that is ReindeR and then at the end of ReindeR the R is capatilised. Why?

ReindeR Rustema: I am active online often and then you want to leave something like a signature. Like this it is possible.

Paul van Liempt: Successfully, it sticks. PetitieS also, well done. Ministers should apply is your proposal. It is does not matter what party you are a member of, governing qualities are what matters. Not your background; party membership is not even required.

ReindeR Rustema: Preferably without party membership even. Only 1 or 2 percent of the people in the Netherlands are member of a political party, so the chance to find a good governor with a party membership are very slim. And besides, the ideal governors do not really like politics much. It is often idealistic and populistic, dogmatic while a governor prefers to consider all sides of an issue and wants to choose the right direction.

Paul van Liempt: Idealism is nice for representatives, for parliament members, but not for governors. So not for ministers?

ReindeR Rustema: Make a distinction between representatives and governors. Now you often see people being elected as representative, often individually with very few votes, who then all of a sudden become minister. Not that they have such a good track record as governor. They are good inside the political party and they ‘won’ the elections.

Paul van Liempt: A strong argument you name is “there are so few people member of a political party”. Take a look at that, all those people member of a party, if we have to choose from those, we have a small pond to fish in.  But you know how this goes, some people are called for, not a member at the moment they are called for, dormant member or once voted for that party and still can become minister. There are many possible examples I think. Is this not sufficient?

ReindeR Rustema: Still you have ministers who need to be loyal to that political party. Before you know it they say something which very rational and necessary and very sensi… But they can not, but it is political undesired in that party. And that minister will stumble. Or they let him stumble sooner or later. This is something you do not want, you should just let this governor do his work. When parliament is of the opinion this is not the way to go, you can fish this individual minister away and replace by another one for as far as I am concerned. But do not call upon the entire country for new elections and such craziness.

Paul van Liempt: In your plan the country should be governed by the best people. That is what it comes down to. The best people should do the job. The best governors on the best positions. But well, who are those? Are those only just technocrats?

ReindeR Rustema: They can also be intellectuals who also have the trait to dislike the dogmatism of ‘this is the way to go’ and ‘these are the solutions’ and we are going to fix things in this country and so on. No, they see the complexity of the matter and will answer to a populist representative ‘yes, it is not that simple, because consider this…’ Then you have a nice division of labour. Parliament says ‘we want this, we want that’ and the minister says ‘yes, sure, but where do you find the money, it is inconsistent, there are treaties, we have this…’ That kind of ministers I would like to see.

Paul van Liempt: But you know how this goes. People who list to this story will think ‘great, I would like to go along with a large part with mr. Rustema, except when it comes to the democracy. Because we live in a democracy and that is important. Then you exactly need people who are affiliated to a certain political party. And they become minister.

ReindeR Rustema: The latter reasoning I never understood well. I agree about the representatives, those you elect, those represent if all goes well, the 150 of them, each 1/150th part of the country more or less. But those governors, they do a completely different job. In my ideal world, it is parliament that elects those, based on their merits. Democratic is that the entire parliament, not just 76 members, should elect the ministers. Based on a profile first and later on you find the individuals to match. Not first the candidates and then vote, no.

Paul van Liempt: So this democratically elected representation, that’s what matters, and subsequently we have the best governors. It seems like a splendid plan. You probably need to change the Constitution, or don’t you?

ReindeR Rustema: I looked it up and found out there is a lot of tradition and unwritten rules on how to do it. What you need, is not any structural changes, no governmental renewal certain parties can debate endlessly, what you need is a large part of parliament supporting this.  Hopefully a few are listening and know how to work on this.

Paul van Liempt: Well, you present it as new, but this is not the case. It could be that some hear this and think ‘great, let’s do this’, but you go around with this idea for longer. Never you got a massive response.

ReindeR Rustema: Yes, I find that surprising.

Paul van Liempt: You have enough self confidence in any case. “Such a good idea? Have they gone mad?”

ReindeR Rustema: Yes, I have become member of five different political parties and went to their congresses and shook many hands.

Paul van Liempt: Hang on, you are member of which parties?

ReindeR Rustema: Let me think, that is the liberal party, the greens, the democrats, a European party ‘Newropeans’, is starting, the Pirate Party has asked me to help them build their organisation. So I know what it is like inside political parties.

Paul van Liempt: One could say you are everybody’s friend like this. Being member of so many parties.

ReindeR Rustema: I study them. I find it extremely interesting. How things go there. I also found out that these political parties, which are so deeply routed in our political system, they are not mentioned, they are a political association, which is not described by law.

Paul van Liempt: You are a member of all these parties, you have did your rounds, looked around, dropped the idea of course.

ReindeR Rustema: …and I mostly meet there who also have the ambition to become governor. If you operate well inside the political party, when you are elected then you can eventualy, as the cherry on the pie, become governor. And I thought one should become political representative. Out of idealism and so on. There are some who become member because they should. But those are a relatively few. It is mostly carreer politicians, which is a pity. To want to become represenative is something different.

Paul van Liempt: Dat begrijp ik. Je zou dus tegen u zeggen. Geweldig allemaal, u loopt bij die partijen rond, u heeft het idee gedropt, zijn er 10 of 20 kamerleden die hebben gezegd ‘het lijkt me aardig’, hier wil ik wel eens naar kijken. Hoe hoog schat u dat aantal in?

ReindeR Rustema: Tot voor kort was dit geen kwestie omdat het op de traditionele manier nog heel goed ging. Maar nu is het politieke spectrum zo gefragmenteerd dat dit eigenlijk nog de enige manier is om eruit te komen, om een goede regering aan te kunnen stellen.

Paul van Liempt: Een goed moment dus zou je zeggen. Dat betekent stel dat het doorgaat, dan heb je daar mensen nodig, bestuurders, technocraten, intellectuelen, mensen die op de hoogte zijn, niet gehinderd door partijpolitieke belangen, dat zijn over het algemeen ervaren mensen natuurlijk. Over het algemeen ook oudere mensen. Ik zie dan wel een soort kabinetsploeg op het bordes staan van zestigplussers in uw plan.

ReindeR Rustema: Ja, en die zie ik eigenlijk toch te weinig in de maatschappij.

Paul van Liempt: Te weinig? Ik zie ze allerwegen.

ReindeR Rustema: Ik zou graag hun ervaring op die plek willen en dan kan je de andere kant, de volksvertegenwoordiging wel gebruiken om ze op te zwepen tot grote prestaties. Maar die ervaring is echt waardevol. Dat moet je niet opzij schuiven.

Paul van Liempt: Dus u zegt, mensen als Ruud Lubbers, 71, die raakt ook meer losgezongen van zijn partij, die mensen zou je daar neer kunnen zetten?

ReindeR Rustema: Deze persoon, dat is typisch een politicus. Ik heb het over bestuurders.

Paul van Liempt: U heeft gelijk, slecht gekozen, maar qua leeftijd, qua ervaring, dit soort mensen, in die hoek moeten we het zoeken?

ReindeR Rustema: We kennen die namen ook niet omdat juist deze bestuurders zich verre houden van politiek. Want die doen niet mee met al die politieke partijen.

Paul van Liempt: Als ik het goed begrijp wordt u plan daar nog sterker op ook. Het zijn mensen die heel goed zijn. Maar zich om allerlei redenen, ook om dit soort redenen, afgewend hebben van de politiek, die niet met partijpolitiek te maken willen hebben. Die komen juist wel terug in dit plan.

ReindeR Rustema: Precies. Dat is de manier om die mensen te mobiliseren voor ‘de publieke zaak’.

Paul van Liempt: Dat houdt uiteindelijk dus in dat we uiteindelijk met een ploeg van, ik probeer het even voor te stellen, 60/65+ers zitten, een volksvertegenwoordiging die heel jong is, ik probeer me ook voor te stellen waar dit bestaat. Dit idee, is er al een land waar dit ten uitvoer wordt gebracht?

ReindeR Rustema: Ik weet ook niet zeker of het per definitie ouderen zijn. Want het is aan die Tweede Kamer om te zeggen hoe oud die mensen zijn. Ze kunnen in hun profiel zeggen ‘we willen op die post juist een jong iemand’.

Paul van Liempt: Maar gewoon logischer wijze denk ik als je dit soort profielen schetst dan…

ReindeR Rustema: … laat dat over aan de Tweede Kamer.

Paul van Liempt: Laten we dat even terzijde schuiven, gewoon het idee op zichzelf, bestaat dit ergens, dit idee?

ReindeR Rustema: Heel veel landen hebben een districtenstelsel. Dat is een grote hindernis. Dat is heel lastig. In Amerika bijvoorbeeld daar worden heel veel bestuurders rechtstreeks gekozen. De sheriff in elke county wordt gekozen enzovoort, dat moet je ook niet hebben, omdat je dan niet een democratische manier hebt waarop die persoon gekozen wordt. In mijn opzet wordt eerst uitvoerig het profiel van die persoon besproken en daar solliciteren mensen op. Dat is wat anders dan een populist die zich als burgemeester of wat dan ook gekozen wil laten worden.

Paul van Liempt: Even voor de duidelijkheid, dit idee is zeker geen losse flodder. U bent er al een tijdje mee bezig, we gaan u zeker van nabij volgen, kijken wat hiervan gaat komen, misschien is heeft u wel het juiste moment, en op dit moment, toepasselijk hier in de haven, de wind in de zeilen. Ik dank u voor uw komst hier naar de Amsterdam Harbour Cafe. Reinder Rustema.

 

Debater as minister?

Today Paul van Liempt  asked his guests in his radioshow on BNR Nieuwsradio wether the debates on television before the elections will result in the best debater to win the elections. The best debater will then become prime minister. Many voters are undecided until the last moment and winning a debate can make the difference.

But is debating the most important quality for a minister? During campaigning for elections and in parliament it is important. But when a minister can not rely on a majority of parliament to proceed with his or her policy, it is crucial to listen to all objections from parliament. Such a minister is always looking for a majority and needs to ask good questions, rather than defend a certain position.

This is an extra reason not to have ministers directly elected by citizens, but indirectly. Let them go through a selection process in parliament. In the end, parliament has to work with the minister. Let them find one that can listen, rather than discuss.

A minister’s political party

10 March 2012 Douwe de Joode wrote a letter to the editor of NRC Handelsblad asking why his newspaper always mentions which political party a minister is from. “Ministers from the cabinet. Though coming from political parties, they are primarily governers and no longer politicians. They work for all citizens.” The editor completely agreed in the context of constitutional law. But “the moment a minister loses support from his own partij (…) it stops. Unless this minister receives enough support from other factions, but this is seldom the case.” As a second reason to mention the political party is because parties see their minister as advertising. Thanks to a minister you are visible as a party. This could just as well be a reason for the newspaper not to mention the political party. It is free publicity for the party as a ‘brand’.

This shows why it is good to not have ministers come from a political party. Which does not mean such a person should not say what he or she votes or is part of. The most important is to receive and keep the support from a majority of the parliament. This works best for an independent minister by not following any party doctrine or coalition agreement, but the wishes of a majority of the parliament.

After the elections

After the elections in the Netherlands on 12 September 2012 a coalition government needs to be found. According to the opinion polls this will be very difficult. No majority is possible with less than three parties. The biggest problem is the polarisation; the biggest parties will not agree to be in a coalition together. With the remaining parties it is hard to reach a majority.

Since March 2012 the parliament has given itself more freedom in forming a coalition. Within a week after the elections parliament will convene and decide how to proceed to form a government. Previously, this initiative was in the hands of the monarch. We can expect parliament to appoint someone to investigate the willingness of parties to form a coalition together. This formation is likely to take weeks if not months.

My proposal is to let parliament vote on a motion to appointment a government consisting of extra-political ministers coming from the citizenry if there is no coalition within a month. This will at least put extra pressure on the formation process. There now is a deadline, it can no longer last endlessly.

Secondly, journalists can start finding good candidates. All likely candidates can answer the question, ‘would you be a good minister?’ Usually during the formation there is no news to report. With this option open every candidate found can become news. These candidates can then explain how they would deal with parliament. Which compromises and middle ground solutions will receive a majority?

Typically, good candidates are not political figures. The required skill is to find support for a measure from a diverse, even divided, constituency. This is the position leaders of an economic sector find themselves in: education, health care, retail, production and so on. Their constituencies are often not unanimous about proposed solutions or positions. It is their skill to find the band-with they can operate in. Also managers in multinational organisations need this skill to satisfy both shareholders, employees and the legislators of the countries they produce or sell in. They often take great pleasure and pride in pragmatically advancing concrete measures within the constraints given to them. Unlike politicians who are elected for their convictions and their skill to argue that those are the best.

 

More Democracy

“We should react with more democracy”, said Stoltenberg, prime minister of Norway, in reactie to Breivik’s actions. More democracy through more direct democracy instruments, like referenda, does not mean people feel better represented. In the discussion about the representative democracy we find the implicit assumption that citizens vote to get power, to become the winner. Although this might be true for many political leaders, their constituency does not necessarily follow in this. Voting to be heard and to feel represented is more realistic. When I was campaigning in 2009 I spoke with many PVV-voters. The said they mostly wanted to be heard; “to punish the social democrats”, but did not want to see Wilders become prime minister. They mostly wanted to break the power of the social democrats which let them down.

“But of course we want to win to carry out our plans” is what I hear from party members in different parties. “Politics is about power and only when we are big we can achieve what we argue for.” Unfortunately, in a coalition you do not dictate. Nobody gets to have that power. Citizens seem to understand this a lot better than politicians.

Breivik and the likes of him should therefore certainly be properly represented in parliament. A functioning representative democracy has parties at the extremes to function. The assassin of Pim Fortuyn did not like this idea at all. He wanted to ‘rescue’ the country after he saw a televised debate in which Fortuyn succesfully attacked the leaders of the major center parties. Very undemocratic.

No more coalitions

With a more polarised political spectrum it becomes more difficult, or practically impossible to create a coalition government. With more votes to the extreme left and right, the parties in the center are taking the blows.

This is not a bad thing for the representativeness of the political system. With votes evenly distributed over the political spectrum it is more likely that people feel properly represented. Good. It poses a problem for the creation of a government in the traditional way.

In the Netherlands a minority government was created in 2010 with support by one extreme party. This coalition was not stable and fell after two years.