Opinion: Election threshold

POSTED: 11/5/13 12:31 PM

We are still waiting for news about election reform. In the Netherlands, like in St. Maarten, there is also some dissatisfaction about the current system. Bernard Wientjes, chairman of the employers organization VNO-NCW suggested yesterday the introduction of an election threshold. Because the political landscape has become so fragmented, Wientjes said, it has become near impossible to execute long-term policies.

Wientjes referred to the polarization of Dutch politics in the sixties of last century. That system worked, because there were three mainstream political parties – Christian Democrats, Social Democrats and Liberals. Together they won in 1965 135 of the 150 seats in parliament. In 1998 the same parties won only 112 seats and last year 92. If elections were held today, the three mainstream parties of the past would not even win a majority in the parliament.

According to Wientjes, this fragmentation is the main cause that the average lifespan of cabinets has become so short.

We have of course the same situation in St. Maarten, with three cabinets since 10-10-10 – even though the causes here are different.

Introducing an election threshold would obviously benefit the largest parties. If St. Maarten were to follow the German system – a threshold of 5 percent – it would have no influence whatsoever on the outcome of the elections. A party would have to win (based on the 2010 election data) at least 685 votes (5 percent of 13,708 votes cast in 2010), but the threshold to win one seat was already around 913 (13,708 votes divided by 15 available seats in parliament).

Our problem is more with the tendency by politicians to leave their party (sometimes as soon as the elections are over and they have secured their $125,000-seat in parliament) and to create havoc at any moment of their choosing.

We have pointed out before that this is a (admittedly unfortunate) growing pain of a young country. If the system were changed in such a way that seats belong to a party and not to the individual that won a seat on that party’s list, nobody would move anymore, but parliamentarians would still have the option to switch allegiance by voting with (or against) the governing coalition of the day.

Whether a Member of Parliament could withdraw her or his support from a coalition and still remain a member of the party that supports that coalition is an open question to which we have at this moment not a clear answer.

With all of this on the table, we are very curious indeed about the proposals Prime Minister Wescot-Williams intends to bring to parliament.

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