Opinion: The nature of the game

POSTED: 01/31/14 12:59 AM

If we made newspapers the way politicians ply their trade when there are elections on the horizon, the island would be on fire 24/7. We would probably also spend more time in court than behind our laptops.

The rumblings this time started in – or more accurately, about – William Marlin’s National Alliance. The party does not have a good track record for keeping its candidates on board. After the 2010 elections. Patrick Illidge – by now the most well-known politician from St. Maarten in the entire Kingdom, a bit like a suspended soccer player – jumped ship to become independent. Later, National Alliance stalwart Frans Richardson followed his example. More recently, this month, Dr. Lloyd Richardson announced his departure from the party. What’s left of the current faction? Laveist, Pantophlet, Hyacinth Richardson and of course party leader Marlin.

The political transfer season is open and there is no way of knowing who will fly which colors later this year. We hear the Laveist is considering his options – and he should. After all, we’re talking about fifteen tickets to highly paid and not too strenuous jobs. That is what this is all about.

Let’s flash back to August 2010, when the Democratic Party made a stir with statements about one Narda de Windt. Originally scheduled as a candidate on the DP-list, Mrs. De Windt, who was thought to appeal to Spanish speaking voters, dropped the ball and became a candidate for the National Alliance.

DP-President Michael Ferrier was not amused and he claimed that the National Alliance had given De Windt $20,000 in cash and a car. The money was to be distributed among potential voters, Ferrier claimed. The car – well, guess. But De Windt denied all allegations. After the elections, she was quickly forgotten. We do not remember the exact numbers, but the controversial candidate did not make a dent in the armor of William Marlin’s political opponents.

Ferrier though played this issue to the hilt. He even called for international observers to come to St. Maarten for the elections. None came, of course, but at the time it sounded like the best argument to underline the seriousness of the alleged De Windt defection.

Now we hear, from the National Alliance press conference on Monday, that Patrick Illidge sold his seat to the highest bidder after the 2010 elections. Nothing surprises us about politicians, especially when his name is Patrick Illidge, but this claim came out of left field.

Why bring this up now and not at the time when Illidge declared himself independent. We’d think that selling a seat in parliament is a serious infringement on democratic principles and an outright threat to the constitutional state. Somebody should pay serious attention to such allegations – if there is even an ounce of truth in them.

But wait, we forgot, apart from the political transfer season, the traditional mudslinging season has now also begun. What is easier than throw some mud at a guy who is already sitting in jail and cannot defend himself?

We keep an absolute open mind about Patrick Illidge, though we also happen to think that the investigation against him that is currently underway cannot be entirely baseless. Like in sports, the prizes in these investigations are awarded at the finish – when the independent judge has pronounced his ruling. In the meantime, Illidge is damaged goods – politically speaking – and there seems little point to drag him into the equation for the upcoming elections.

What bothers us most though, is that this is just the beginning. The elections season is still young, and we may expect much more mudslinging in the coming months – from all sides. Because that is the nature of the game – the way it is understood in the Caribbean setting.

Let those games not fool you because the players in the political arena all know each other better than some of us know ourselves. The mudslinging is a show for public consumptions, because when the battle is over, politicians whom you thought hated each other’s guts, suddenly seem to be the best of friends again.

Remember when UP-leader Theo Heyliger left the Democratic Party to become independent? And remember how he did not participate in the last elections for the Netherlands Antilles in January 2010? Heyliger showed up on postulation day at both the manifestations of the National Alliance and the Democratic Party.

One could understand his popularity with National Alliance supporters at the time. After all, he had turned his back on the party of the Old Man and thereby on their perpetual political adversary. But when Heyliger subsequently showed up when the DP postulated its candidates, some people thought they saw water burn. Heyliger was as popular with the DP fan base – that he had shunned – as he was with the supporters if the NA.

That’s politics in St. Maarten in a nutshell. It is a game, but a game with high stakes. That escapes most of the electorate. Too many voters think that what they are getting out of their vote is the honey they so desperately long for. But the truth is of course that the real honey is always distributed among a ruling class that does not give a damn about the mud that comes their way. They consider it part of the package – and they cash their checks every month with a smile they hope nobody will see.

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