NA-leader Marlin about electoral reform: “Every system has its advantages”

POSTED: 12/28/12 1:09 PM

St. Maarten – Vice Prime Minister William Marlin supports the idea of electoral reform, but he said on Lloyd Richardson’s radio program Voice of the People that the time is too short to put something in place before the next elections in 2014. Marlin, leader of the National Alliance, did not indicate a clear preference for a particular system.

“In 2003 I opposed the system we have today whereby you have a list of, say, 23 people, and may the best man win. If the party wins seven seats, the candidates with the highest number of votes on the list, no matter where they are places, are elected. If the leader gets 4,000 votes and the numbers 2 through 7 get 80, 76, 73, 60, 14 and 10 votes, they are elected.”

Marlin pointed out that 12 of the Nation Alliance candidates in the 201 elections were among the top-15 vote getters. “In the top-10 we held eight of those spots.”

In 2010, Marlin came in second after UP-leader Theo Heyliger (2,912 votes) with 12,590 votes. The third spot was for Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams (1,368). Positions 4 to 8 were for National Alliance candidates: Frans Richardson (695), Patrick Illidge (593), Lloyd Richardson (476), George Pantophlet (425) and Louie Laveist (351).

After former PPA-leader and now UP-candidate Gracita Arrindell (335) followed again two NA-candidates: Hyacinth Richardson (334) and Rodolphe Samuel (268).

The rest of the list looked like this: Sylvia Meyers-Olivacce (UP; 255), Romain Laville (UP; 186), Leroy de Weever (DP; 178), Jules James (UP; 152), Maria Buncamper-Molanus (DP; 136), Roy Marlin (DP; 128) and Rhoda Arrindell (UP; 120).

In the meantime, Frans Richardson and Patrick Illidge have gone independent, taking 1,288 National Alliance-votes with them. With the departure of Romain Laville, the UP-party lost just 186 votes.

Remarkably, two of the lowest vote-getters (Buncamper-Molanus and Arrindell) both ended up as ministers in the first Wescot-Williams cabinet. Buncamper-Molanus was forced to step down after the Eco green scandal in December 2010, and Arrindell is now at home gardening after the fall of the government in April. Rodolphe Samuel, who just missed a seat in parliament, has returned as the President of Parliament.

“On the French side, for instance Alain Richardson gets elected with his team based on the number of votes his ticket won. His team gets sufficient seats to govern as a party while the opposition gets one seat in the Executive Council, basically to keep an eye on the government from the inside,” Marlin said.

The NA-leader said that his campaign manager called this “the most brutal system he had ever seen.” It leads to constant fights, he explained: “If you and I are on the same list and I get 300 votes and I am elected, and you got 295 votes and you did not, next time around you will do whatever it takes to get those extra ten of fifteen votes. Ultimately, you want to be in there, you want your voice to be heard.”

Marlin said that he gave up discussing electoral systems with his good friend Leo Friday, because the discussions always end up in an argument. “He looks at it from the perspective that this is democracy. The person with the highest number of votes should be elected. Then I say, okay, what about the guy on my list with 300 votes who was not elected? And somebody on the UP-list with 70 votes was elected?”

Marlin has a clear aversion against the current system whereby somebody with just 30 votes could theoretically be elected. “If you choose for a system whereby you are elected on a slate, then the slate should have some value as well. In the past you were elected on preferential votes only if you had 50 percent plus 1 of the number of votes required for a seat. That is how it is in Curacao and Aruba and the other islands; only St. Maarten has changed.”

Still, Marlin believes there is room for electoral reform. “Definitely.”

The NA-leader looks (for a good reason) at the British system of constituency-voting. “Let’s say we have fifteen polling stations or districts and each district will elect one representative. During the last election the National Alliance won 14 of the 15 polling stations. That would have meant, had we been in one of the English-speaking islands, that we would have swept the elections with a comfortable majority to govern. So the will of the people as expressed in the 2010 election was for the National Alliance to be in office. We had the most seats, the most votes and we won all but one district.”

Marlin said that the country will have to choose for one system. “You cannot have constituency-voting and then apply the rules of another system. You cannot choose for a presidential system whereby the leader presents his slate and then wants to apply a different system.”

While the NA-leader thinks that the time is too short to change the current system before the 2014 elections, he acknowledges that “it is definitely something that has to be looked at.”

The trigger that set this process in motion is the rise of the independents: “It has happened in Aruba, in Curacao, in Bonaire, Statia and St. Maarten,” Marlin says. “Candidates are elected on a slate and then they declare themselves independent. Those independents will then support another group to give it a majority. Is that fair? Yes, the system allows it.

“Once you choose for a system it comes with advantages and disadvantages. Look at the French side. If no party wins a 50 percent plus 1 majority in the first round of balloting, the other parties have the option to reorganize themselves and challenge the largest party in the second round. Or they endorse a party. That is the way it is: once you have a system you have to live with the consequences.”

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