Opinion: The root cause of all trouble (Parliamentarians are free to do as they please)

POSTED: 09/9/14 11:06 PM

Are candidates that are elected to Parliament who do not win enough votes to win a seat on their own, enslaved to the party they belong to? This seems to be the gist of the opinion of Ed Gumbs, elsewhere in this newspaper.

We disagree. The system is the way it is and it comes with pros and cons. One of the (perceived) cons is that candidates who do not win enough votes to match or surpass the quota for a seat still could get into Parliament because of the number of seats their party won and – of course – because of the number of votes they won relative to other candidates on the same list.

Let us have a look at the United People’s party as an example. The party won 6,211 votes, good for 7 seats. Party leader Theo Heyliger won 1,945 votes. A seat requires 970 votes. On his own, Heyliger is therefore good for 2 seats. The other 4,266 votes for the UP went to other candidates. Together they outvoted their party leader by a factor above 2:1. One could therefore say that the party leader needs the other candidates on the list as much as they need their party leader.

The constitution holds that Members of Parliament vote on issues “zonder last of ruggespraak” – in other words, they have to vote their conscience and not let themselves be influenced by pressure from their party or from lobby groups.

This rule alone makes clear that elected Members of Parliament don’t owe anything to their party. They are free to do as they please. That the reality is often times starkly different does not change this fact. An elected UP-member could vote four years long against any proposal the party brings to the floor in Parliament and there is nobody who can do a thing about it. Surely, such an MP would not make many friends within his or her own party, but that is beside the point.

If you are free to take your own decisions in Parliament, you are also free to leave a faction and start out on your own, or join another party.

That this is the root cause of all trouble in our local political arena is unfortunate, but until someone comes up with a different – not necessarily better – system, this is what we are stuck with.

All attempts to keep elected MPs on board with their party are doomed when the pull from the other side is strong enough. MPs who want to leave the UP after they have been sworn in as parliamentarian, have to pay their share in the party’s campaign expenditures. That seems fair enough, but it won’t solve the problem. It simply puts a price on a seat in Parliament.

Let us not forget that, as a young country, St. Maarten’s elected representatives still have a lot to learn. They must learn that their task is to control the government. They must learn that there is a difference between their personal interest and the general interest. Above all, they must study, study, study, to grasp the process of legislating. And they must read.

The experience of the past four years shows that many – but not all – MPs do not read the information they receive. More often than not, parliamentarians will call a minister to Parliament for an explanation about information that was sent to them months earlier. That is not efficient, to put it mildly. It makes the Parliament look like a bunch of morons who do not know what they are doing. Again, this does not apply to all, but it does apply to too many of them.

Will this change with the new crop of parliamentarians? One would certainly wish this to be true. If parliamentarians focus on the issues, and on the arguments that bind them or divide them, instead of blowing hot air filled with incomprehensible innuendos, we would already be moving in the right direction.

A government that has the interest of the country at heart, and a Parliament that refrains from useless trips to useless Parlatino meetings in exotic locations, is what our country needs.

Behind the scenes, invisible also to the media, the power struggle will without any doubt continue. All the energy that will be spent on breaking one of the MPs that now sits with the NA/DP/USp coalition is energy that is not spent on the country’s wellbeing.

Parliamentarians are free to make their own decisions, but they ought to be aware that their choices determine how they will go down in history.

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