In March, there was a General Election in the Netherlands. The process thus began to find a Government which could command a majority in its parliament, with only the slight complication that no one wishes to govern with the right-wing nationalists who are among the five or six major parties. It is now July, and the process continues – there is no Dutch Government.
In May, there was an Assembly Election in the Canadian province of British Columbia. The incumbent Liberals won 43 of 87 seats, just one short of a majority, but the opposition NDP and Greens agreed to combine all the remaining 44 seats under a “confidence and supply” arrangement not totally unlike the Conservative-DUP agreement at UK level last Monday. However, the Liberal Premier (First Minister) refused to resign, remained in office, lost a confidence vote this week and still refused to advise the Lieutenant Governor (Secretary of State) what action to take next. The choice of election or giving more time for talks for a majority government to emerge will take them through the weekend… sound familiar?! (They even have MLAs…)
We in Northern Ireland, for understandable historical reasons, have it even more complicated. We do not just require a majority but, in effect, a majority of each of two sides as well as overall. If the Dutch haven’t been able to do it since March and western Canadians since May, should it really be so surprising that we have been unable to in an even more complex set-up?
One noteworthy difference in Northern Ireland is that Ministers lose their roles at the time of election. In the Netherlands and British Columbia, Ministers remain in office, at least in a caretaker role, until they are replaced. There can be no “Executive Meetings” as such, but at least core decisions can be made and direction given. Northern Ireland should make a change to a similar arrangement.
For all that, my point is that we are understandably frustrated but these things are not straightforward. It does create genuinely serious administrative challenges, but as a society let us not beat ourselves up too much. If you’re in the same club at the Netherlands and British Columbia, it really isn’t the end of democracy.