Opinion: Wrong signals (St. Maarten elections)

POSTED: 09/1/14 9:49 PM

That the supporters, not to mention the leadership of the United People’s Party are disappointed about the developments that followed the results of Friday’s elections is understandable, but it does not mean that the UP could not have seen this coming.

There is no discussion about which party was the best organized, probably also the best funded and the most widely supported. That was the UP. Its organization was spotless, its billboards and the green shirts were everywhere and the turnout for the last public party meeting on the Pondfill was out of this world. Where did it all go wrong for the party that won 2,133 more votes than its closest rival, the National Alliance, 3,823 more than the Democratic Party and 4,521 more than the United St. Maarten party?

That the other three parties found each other so fast is definitely a sign – it almost feels as if NA, DP and US had cooked up their little scheme even before the first vote was cast on Friday morning.

Maybe the power play of the UP and its supporters during the campaign sent the wrong signals. Maybe this was just too much, too overdone. The thought of having to dance to the tune of the UP for the next four years was apparently something none of the other parties wanted to put up with.

There could be other factors in play as well and for the sake of St. Maarten we wish that they are the ones that inspired the three parties to come together.

The name of the United People’s party was all over the place in the election fraud trial from 2010. It is of course true that the party nor its leader Theo Heyliger had to appear in court to answer to charges of vote-buying. But Roy Heyliger, an uncle of the party leader, was and he declared loud and clear to investigators that he was accountable to Theo Heyliger in 2010 when he distributed money to voters.

The National Detective Agency did not even bother to question Theo Heyliger, nor did it investigate the party. That was the reason for the court to declare the prosecution inadmissible, though in its considerations the court pronounced what could be considered a meaningless guilty verdict.

Vote buying has of course been part of the local political culture like forever, but that does not make it right. The aura of suspicion may not have offended people who were going to vote for the green machine anyway, but it could have increased the mistrust among the other three parties towards Heyliger and the UP.

Then there are the two candidates on the UP-list with a checkered history. Placed low on the list, both Maria Buncamper-Molanus (#21) and Silvio Matser(#23) won enough votes for a seat in the new parliament, though a recount could still put Buncamper-Molanus out to pasture.

What is wrong with these candidates? Maria Buncamper-Molanus is currently a suspect in a criminal investigation. It is about money-laundering and it has to do with the scandal that cost her, her job a minister of public health in December 2010. There is no need to repeat that story here again. The investigation has to be completed by November 6 the latest. Then we will know whether the prosecutor’s office will (finally) make a move in this dossier.

Unfortunately for Buncamper-Molanus, there is more. In 2008 she was at the center of another political firestorm when it appeared that her foundation The Sky is the Limit (some people have no shame when choosing the name for such entities) had received a $25,000 donation from the TelEm Group of companies where her husband Claudius just happened to be a member of the supervisory board. Buncamper-Molanus did not survive a motion of no confidence, but she was later re-appointed. From that time stems her famous line, “no crime was committed.”

Last year, when she was the president of the Rotary Club, the Rotary suddenly decorated her husband Claudius with the (until that moment) prestigious Paul Harris Fellowship Award, in spite of the fact that he was part and parcel of the Sky is the Limit donation and of the scandal with leased land that became public in 2010. At least two Rotarians were so disgusted with this that they cancelled their membership. Later, surprise, surprise, Buncamper-Molanus herself also received the Harris Fellowship thingy. Faster ways to discredit an otherwise honorable award still have to be invented.

Then there is Silvio Matser. The contractor, number #23 on the UP-list has to appear in court in December on charges of tax-evasion and failure to pay social premiums. That is has come to a court case does not mean that Matser is guilty, but apparently the prosecutor’s office found the case, involving $3.2 million in allegedly unpaid taxes and premiums, serious enough.

Whatever the outcome of that court case will be, Matser will carry around the aura of a not-so-upstanding citizen because of it. The UP-fan base awarded him with 491 votes, making him the number 3 in the party hierarchy.

All this may have worked against the UP, in spite of all the votes these candidates brought in. They could very well be part of the downfall.

Is there nothing to say about other candidates? Certainly. The National Alliance has harbored Louie Laveist for the past four years, and he has a criminal conviction for bribery to his name. This time around however, Laveist did not win enough votes for a seat in parliament, so in this sense, the NA is now rid of him.

On the other side of the spectrum, we have seen the rise of newcomers like Emil Lee, Sidharth “Cookie” Bijlani and Rueben Thompson. Especially Lee has made a point of integrity, transparency and accountability issues and the electorate rewarded him in spades. It is no small feat in the context of our local elections to win at a first showing almost 300 votes.

Maybe the time for real change, as Lee kept advocating, is really there. The new coalition will however have to reckon with fierce scrutiny, not only from a ferocious opposition, but also from the media.

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