Opinion: Calm down (Election time is coming)

POSTED: 03/21/14 7:50 PM

Who will get his or her way? Minister of General Affairs Sarah Wescot-Williams has set the date for the parliamentary elections at September 5. UP-leader Theo Heyliger wants to have elections before the summer, to stay away from the peak month of the hurricane season. What are the rules and who gets the upper hand? An analysis.

Yesterday, Wescot-Williams explained in great detail how she arrived at Friday, September 5 as the date for the elections. Already some time ago, Heyliger expressed his preference for elections before the summer. This week he noted that it should not be a problem to move the election date 60 days back in time – that would be the beginning of July. Yesterday, National Alliance leader William Marlin said that the government ought to provide clarity to the people. We’re thinking, that’s exactly what Wescot-Williams did when she mentioned September 5 as Election Day.

That is, of course, for regular elections that are tied to the end of the parliament’s term on October 9. There is an alternative scenario possible. If the government – the Council of Ministers, that is – dissolves the Parliament, the new Parliament must take office within three months after the date on the national decree that regulates the dissolution of parliament.

We understood that dissolving the Parliament is not on the mind of Prime Minister and Minister of General Affairs Sarah Wescot-Williams. If she is not going to do it, who will?

NA-leader Marlin suggested another route, namely that the Parliament withdraws its support for the government. A government that does not have the support of a majority in Parliament cannot govern. Everybody seems to agree that – just in case someone pulls the plug on this third cabinet – letting the current team rumble on until the September-elections as a caretaker government is not a good idea.

In the scenario where the government no longer has majority support in Parliament, someone still has to take the decision to dissolve the Parliament to bring about speedy elections. Marlin said yesterday that this decision would ultimately be in the hands of the governor. That is a stretch, because dissolving the Parliament is a political decision, not one the governor ought to be (or want to be) involved in. We put our money right there: the governor will do no such thing.

So then what? What if the Minister of General Affairs does not want to cooperate with an initiative to dissolve the Parliament? Could she frustrate the process to such a point that the current team could hang on to office until the elections in September?

That is not necessarily so. The majority in the Council of Ministers has the power to take the decision to dissolve the Parliament. This is a little nugget of expertise the National Alliance missed last year when it wanted to do this and encountered obstruction from Wescot-Williams. The majority could have overruled the prime minister. By the time the National Alliance leadership became aware of this, it was too late because their ministers had already submitted their resignation.

Will it be different this time around? These are all the growing pains of a new country, let us not forget that. The experience of the past years will be carried forward to the future where politicians will use their newly acquired wisdom to play their political games.

Given the makeup of the current cabinet there is no way of knowing which way the ball would roll in case one political powerhouse – the United People’s party comes to mind – wants to set things in motion to dissolve the parliament. This is because some of the ministers in the current cabinet do not have a defined political color. Economic Affairs Minister Ted Richardson is – as weird as this sounds – the minister of independent MP Romain Laville. He has come to St. Maarten to dance to Laville’s tune, do his job, and return to Curacao once his term is over.

Justice Minister Dennis Richardson, a joint DP/UP nominee, is also not affiliated to any party. His future lies with the Council of State in The Hague, where he will resume his duties after his term in this cabinet ends.

Two ministers have a clear DP signature – Prime Minister Wescot-Williams and Public Health Minister Cornelius de Weever.

Vromi-Minister Maurice Lake is an obvious United People’s party minister.

That leaves the a-political Finance Minister Martin Hassink and Education Minister Patricia Lourens. The Democratic Party and the UP recommended them both to their post. The question is where their allegiance will be when it comes to tough and unpopular political choices.

It is therefore not at all clear that a move by UP-leader Theo Heyliger to withdraw support for the third Wescot-Williams cabinet (and we stress that this is a hypothetical scenario) would lead to the desired result: a majority decision in the Council of Ministers to dissolve the cabinet.

And then there is this to consider. Independent MP Romain Laville – whose political career is over before it really started as far as we can see – brought down the first Wescot-Williams cabinet when he left his post as the faction leader of the UP. His fingerprints are also all over the fall of the second Wescot-Williams cabinet.

It is not likely that Heyliger will want to have his name linked to the fall of the third cabinet within three years. It is politically not attractive and it is not good – to put it mildly – for the image of St. Maarten as an autonomous country.

The best solution for everyone is to calm down, stop making something out of nothing and prepare for elections on September 5. That will at least limit the number of political victims.

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