The suspension of an opposition MP is an attack on democracy
14 oktober 2022 | Forum for Democracy
On Thursday 13 October it was announced that the so-called 'Integrity Committee' has deemed a complaint from the governing coalition against FVD party leader Thierry Baudet to be justified. It concerns the failure to fill out various 'registries' for the purpose of providing insight into the business and conduct of MPs. These include registries of gifts, trips, meetings, additional jobs, and so on.
The intention is to 'suspend' Baudet for a week – thus excluding him from parliamentary debates. This is a new low in a long-running trend of the curtailment of the rights of opposition parties by an increasingly intolerant coalition.
Tyranny of the Majority
For instance, around the middle of last year, Gideon van Meijeren was deprived of his right to speak because he compared the COVID measures to the ostracisation of Jews in the 1930s. In addition, the entire cabinet staged a walkout two weeks ago when Baudet named the university where Minister Kaag had studied, and its nickname. Pepijn van Houwelingen received a 'complaint' – and was subsequently sued – for posting a tweet. Lastly, Simone Kerseboom was refused a kiss on the cheek following her maiden speech, because it could give viewers the impression that the advice to remain five feet apart did not have to be taken seriously.
Democracy is a precarious system. We know from history that people are by nature not always inclined to tolerate dissent. In countless places in the world, dissenters are persecuted, expelled or worse. Tolerance is not a given - and even always hurts a little. That makes sense. Resistance and opposition can be very tiresome.
Because those who drew up our constitution knew this, they wisely afforded MPs maximum freedom in the interpretation of their office. MPs enjoy immunity for their statements in parliament, which comes down to: you can say anything, even things that are very displeasing to those in power, the government. In addition, their interpretation of how to do their job cannot be judged or sanctioned by anyone or anything. This too, makes sense because a Member of Parliament serves as a check on power and is therefore, by definition, a target of that power.
In fact, if the MP does a good job, those in power will always hate that MP to some extent. That comes with the territory of being a parliamentarian. We have not been chosen to be popular but to safeguard - indeed to defend - the interests of the population against aggressive state power.
The only constraint on this maximum freedom of the MP, the only limitation of his autonomy, are the ‘rules of order’. Originally, these forbade physical fights, chair throwing, and entering the podium to speak when drunk.
Now that that concept has been stretched to the point of disfigurement, recent years have seen these ‘rules of order’ become increasingly tied to the substance of debates. Disingenuous and hypocritical appeals to protect the 'dignity of parliament' have limited what you can nowadays say inside the House, compared to outside. That is a reversal of the intent of the Constitution and it is a very dangerous step towards tyranny of the majority. Because of course it does not stop there. Freedom of debate will soon be further curtailed, even outside the House. We can already see it happening with dissidents like Willem Engel who have been jailed for barely credible, half-hearted accusations of 'sedition'.
With its advice to go so far as to suspend an opposition MP, the House now threatens to take the next step in the dark, undemocratic direction in which the Netherlands is moving. For the first time in the history of our democracy, the coalition is judging the ‘integrity’ of critical voices. While Mark Rutte and his team of ministers have countless scandals to their name which are never investigated or condemned (after all, they can - of course - count on majority support in the House, which immediately blocks such investigations), the reverse is now happening: a representative of the minority is silenced by the majority.
Broader national trend
As mentioned before, this spreading intolerance is not limited to politics. Even the only broadcaster on public television voicing true dissent, Ongehoord Nederland, may soon be canceled for its discussion of banned concepts such as 'anti-white racism'. Upon the founding of the opposition newspaper Common Sense, several coalition politicians said that it would be best for newsstands not to sell it. The European Union has now banned all news and opinion channels from Russia. Libraries, universities and schools ban books that do not fit into the prevailing ideology.
In short, the desire to suspend an opposition MP highlights the writing on the wall. It is not a solitary occurrence and it is part of a trend. Even the most fundamental democratic value – that every MP is fundamentally equal to every other MP, and can be controlled only by the voter – is being cast aside. Insidiously, a terrifying narrowing of permissible opinions is being forced upon us.
Forum for Democracy will never stop opposing this trend. We will never allow ourselves to be judged – let alone punished – by other MPs. We are accountable to the voter, not to the party cartel.
But what about those additional jobs?
There is total transparency regarding Thierry Baudet’s additional jobs, and they are publicly accessible via the Chamber of Commerce’s Business Register. Baudet is a board member of Stichting Ondersteuning Tweede Kamerfractie FVD, a board member of the FVD International Foundation and a board member of Vereniging Forum voor Democratie. In addition, he has a 17% share in the publishing house Amsterdam Media Group / Amsterdam Books and a 100% share in THPB Media BV, whose annual accounts are duly filed with – again – the Chamber of Commerce. Tax returns are done annually by an external, renowned accounting office. Baudet has no other business contacts. All donations made to Forum for Democracy or its ancillary institutions are also entered into public registers and are audited annually by accountants and the Central Government Audit Service.
In other words, there is no ambiguity.
Everyone knows that Baudet sells the occasional book, and the annual accounts of his companies are perfectly clear about his earnings. That renders all the agonizing about 'lack of transparency’ and 'ambiguity surrounding additional jobs’ completely unbelievable. It is a pretence. Nothing more than rabble-rousing.
So what is their hidden agenda? Why is this happening?
First, as we have argued at length, it is a vulgar attempt at the character assassination – and even the silencing – of the opposition. We must add that this sanction has not been imposed on any of the dozens of other MPs who have handled the 'registers' carelessly, negligently or have left them incompletely filled out. Two years ago, the broadcasting company BNNVARA drew up an overview: at least 33 MPs were said to have violated the internal regulations. Given that fact, why has only Baudet been sanctioned?
Secondly, there is a clear trend of bastardization of House of Representatives membership. Parliamentarians chummily refer to each other as ‘colleagues’ (in reality, they are peers, a title that emphasizes their individuality and independence much more strongly). They mainly concern themselves with pleasantries. And the cartel would prefer that these 'colleagues' carefully write down in the 'registers' anything they have received from third parties exceeding a value of € 50. Any lunch offered to them. Every outside appointment. Trips. Meetings. Of course the cartel would want that! After all, this constitutes a slippery slope towards total control over the MP's calendar and the way they perform their job.
However, those whose task is to check the people in power must be allowed to do so freely and autonomously. They have to be able to meet with all kinds of people, in privacy. Sometimes they might have to take a trip abroad, without having to broadcast it. In short, keeping one’s rulers in check requires being partly out of their sight. This is a freedom expressly afforded to MPs by our Constitution - and that is exactly what the cartel is now trying to frustrate, through tricks about 'indecency' and feigned indignation about the supposed failure of entering information that has been publicly accessible for years.
One last point
There is one more consideration to make. In this context, people often speak of 'corruption' and conflicts of interest. A common view is that we need to know exactly which considerations play a role in voting behavior and decision-making. But does not that seemingly plausible reasoning miss the most important point?
When all is said and done, ideally speaking, the House is all about the strength of the argument. Being influenced by any other interests logically results in one’s arguments lacking effectiveness. If so, let Parliament make mincemeat of that with facts, reasoning and passionate argumentation! Before the eyes of the nation, outright show that a Member of Parliament is spouting nonsense! Surely, a good debater would not need to make a fuss about 'integrity'?
On the contrary, the appeal to ‘integrity’ is a hypocritical opportunistic argument. The cartel itself gets away with the most grotesque fallacies – obviously, due to their House majority. In addition, after a few years of being a minister, a job is usually waiting for them in the same sector they were involved in.
Talk about a conflict of interest!
Yes, that is the real corruption of our system. Corruption in networking. A revolving door for the like-minded.
Of course, not a single integrity committee would speak up about that. The coalition is wisely keeping its mouth shut. All their sights have been trained on Baudet – the only MP . Not for ‘integrity' but to silence the opposition. That is what is really going on here. And if we like democracy, we must do what we can to reverse this trend.