Johan Leonard squeezes past Buncamper-Molanus into parliament

POSTED: 09/4/14 11:06 PM

“Mister 7-UP” sends rival home

St. Maarten – Maria Buncamper-Molanus will not become a member of the new Parliament after all. After the Central Voting Bureau had scrutinized yesterday all the ballots the twenty polling stations had deemed invalid, it found two valid votes that went to Johan Leonard. Thereby Buncamper-Molanus and Leonard ended in a tie with 204 votes each. Because Leonard ranks higher on the UP list of candidates, he grabbed the seventh seat for his party in Parliament.

Leonard was obviously elated with the outcome of the long day of ballot-counting, but he said he was not going to call his fellow party member; he did not plan a big celebration either. “It is not my choice that things went this way,’ he said.

The voting bureau announced the final results of Friday’s elections around 7 p.m. last night. The United People’s party won 6,211 votes, the National Alliance 4,055, the Democratic Party 2,342, the United St. Maarten party 1,647, the One St. Maarten People Party 169 and the Social Reform party 132. The seat distribution in parliament remained the same: UP 7, NA 4, DP and USp 2 each. The total number of valid votes in this election was 14,556.

The public meeting of the Central Voting ‘Bureau – chaired by attorney Jason Rogers – began shortly after 10 a.m. yesterday morning. Rogers said that the voting bureau had scrutinized the reports of all polling stations and that there were no objections to the results. “We have therefore no reason to doubt the results,” he said.

However, Social Reform Party leader Jacinto Mock had filed an objection with the Central Voting Bureau. Mock complained about the lack of transparency, the fact that not all voters received their voting cards, and the fact that not all voters understood the language used for the elections. Mock also argued that the Central Voting Bureau should have been present at all polling stations.

UP-candidate Johan Leonard asked the voting bureau for a recount, because he fell two votes short of the seventh seat in the UP-faction.

Jim Rosen, an eligible voter and the campaign manager for Emil Lee, wanted a recount in the districts 8 and 15 because of the unusual high number of invalid votes in these districts.

UP-candidate Claret Connor – 6 votes shy of a seat in Parliament – also asked for a recount, as did DP-candidate Sidharth Bijlani. Others, like Tatiana Arrindell complained that people had not been allowed to control at the polling stations whether ballots were really invalid. Others that asked for various reasons for recounts were Richinel Brug, Herbert Martina, Narda de Windt and Octavio Oganda Garcia.

The voting bureau ruled that the complaint from Mock did not refer to concrete facts or circumstances about irregularities, and noted that the voting bureau had been present at all polling stations, in the company of a police escort.
Rogers said that all voters who had not received voting cards eight days before the elections could have gone to the Census Office to straighten things out.

About the recount-requests, Rogers remarked that a small margin in the results “does not indicate that something was not done according to the law. We scrutinized the reports from all polling stations and there were no objections. The fact that a candidate is short of a few votes is not a reason for a recount.”

The Central Voting Bureau did however accept the request to reexamine the ballots the polling stations had declared invalid.

The tedious process that followed was a rollercoaster experience for United People’s party candidate number 7, Johan Leonard, and possibly also for the party’s number 21 candidate, Maria Buncamper-Molanus who was not present to witness that drama that was about to unfold. Going into the review of Friday’s election results, Buncamper-Molanus was holding the seventh UP-seat in Parliament with a razor thin advantage over Leonard (2 votes), Jules James (5 votes) and Claret Connor (6 votes). After de Central Voting Bureau rejected requests for a complete recount of all votes, but yielded to a request for examining ballots the twenty polling stations had deemed invalid, Leonard almost immediately struck gold, when chairman Rogers announced that a ballot deemed invalid by voting district 1 (John Larmonie center) , was actually valid and that this vote was for Leonard. That narrowed the gap with Buncamper-Molanus to just one vote.
What followed was an unbelievable series of narrow escapes for Buncamper-Molanus and near hits for Leonard. One vote for Leonard in district 3 (Sint Maarten senior citizens Recreational Center) was ruled invalid. Then, in district 4 (Sister Marie Laurence school), a voter marked Leonard as well as UP-candidate #12 (Tamara Leonard) – making the ballot invalid. Another voter who voted for Leonard wrote something on his or her ballot, making it invalid. In district 5 (Dutch Quarter Community Center), a vote for candidate 7 was declared valid, but this referred to DP-candidate Perry Geerlings. And on it went: in district 8 (St. Maarten Academy) 51 of 60 votes the polling station had marked as invalid, were declared valid.
An incredible number of UP-votes – 31 in all – were declared valid. One ballot marked candidate 6 (Maurice Lake), then slipped with the pen into Leonard’s number 7, making it invalid. IP-candidates 14, 3, 23 4, 1, 11, 13, 6 – and so on got valid ballots allotted and it seemed to be either Leonard’s unlucky day or just a matter of time before he would find the second vote he craved. That moment finally arrived at 12.40 p.m.
Leonard rose from his seat, arms in the air; he had found the second vote he needed among the votes that were initially declared invalid. At the next polling station, the Central Voting Bureau found another vote that would have gone to Leonard had it not been invalid.
Leonard went into the lunch break a happy man. At polling station 14 (Belvedere Community Center) there were again two invalid votes that could have gone Leonard’s way. One voter marked UP candidates 7 (Leonard) and 12 (Tamara Leonard) with a blue pen, another voter marked several candidates, among them Leonard.
At 3.55 p.m. Leonard got a scare when a ballot surfaced from the votes cast at the Peterson Building in Cole Bay that contained a vote for Buncamper-Molanus. Because the voters mark also hit the white circle in front of UP-candidate 22, Julian Rollocks, the Central Voting Bureau ruled the vote invalid.
Because polling station number 7 (Rupert Maynard Center) had failed to put the invalid ballots separate, the voting bureau decided to do a total recount for this district. When the ballots of all parties but the UP were counted, the stack of invalid ballots surfaced. Leonard had to sweat it until the last ballot, but when everything was said and done he found himself in a dead heat with Buncamper-Molanus – 204 votes each. Because Leonard ranks higher on UP’s list of candidates (7 versus 21) the seventh UP seat goes to “Mister 7-UP.”
There is no appeal possible against the decisions of the Central Voting Bureau. Because it is not considered an administrative entity (bestuursorgaan) it is not possible to challenge the vote count in a so-called Lar-procedure.

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