St. Maarten Electoral reform

POSTED: 12/17/13 10:00 PM

A year ago, National Alliance leader William Marlin expressed his thoughts about electoral reform during a broadcast of Lloyd Richardson’s Voice of the People radio program. Since that day in December, a lot has been said about electoral reform but to this moment no clear plans have emerged. Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams is working on what feels like a discussion paper but in which direction this will go is anybody’s guess.

The current system is similar to the Dutch one. Candidates are on the list of a party, and the number of seats allocated to that party are based on the total number of votes for the list. The seats are then filled with the candidates on that list, based on the number of votes they received.

Like in St. Maarten, the overwhelming number of votes in the Netherlands go to the politicians that heads the list. The last candidate to sneak into parliament could have as few as 300 votes – even in a country like the Netherlands, where the VVD won 2,504,948 votes; 2,129,000 votes went to party-leader Mark Rutte. The PvdA won 2,340,700 votes, of which 1,809,856 went to party-leader Diederik Samsom. The Socialist Party was good for 909,853 votes, of which 755,765 went to party-leader Emile Roemer.

At the bottom of each list we find for the VVD Ingrid de Caluwé (556 votes), for the PvdA Jan Vos (507 votes) and for the SP Arnold Merkies (343 votes).

It is safe to say that these backbenchers would have never made it without the vote-getting power of their respective party-leaders, just like Laville would never have become an MP without Theo Heyliger. The Dutch backbenchers averaged 0.015 percent of the total votes cast in last year’s elections. Laville’s 186 votes represent 1.36 percent of the votes cast in St. Maarten in 2010, so by comparison he did not do all that bad.

William Marlin has an obvious taste for the British district-system, or constituency-voting. No wonder: during the 2010 elections, the National Alliance won 14 of the 15 districts. But Wescot-Williams is not in favor of this system, she said in October. The PM does not favor a directly elected prime minister either.

Let’s have another look at the numbers from the 2010 elections. William Marlin came in second after UP-leader Theo Heyliger (2,912 votes) with 1,590 votes. The third spot was for Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams (1,368). Positions 4 to 8 were for National Alliance candidates: Frans Richardson (695), Patrick Illidge (593), Lloyd Richardson (476), George Pantophlet (425) and Louie Laveist (351).

After former PPA-leader and now UP-candidate Gracita Arrindell (335) followed again two NA-candidates: Hyacinth Richardson (334) and Rodolphe Samuel (268).

The rest of the list looked like this: Sylvia Meyers-Olivacce (UP; 255), Romain Laville (UP; 186), Leroy de Weever (DP; 178), Jules James (UP; 152), Maria Buncamper-Molanus (DP; 136), Roy Marlin (DP; 128) and Rhoda Arrindell (UP; 120).

Frans Richardson and Patrick Illidge went independent, taking 1,288 National Alliance-votes with them. With the departure of Romain Laville, the UP-party lost just 186 votes.

We know that both Buncamper-Molanus and Rhoda Arrindell landed a post in the first Wescot-Williams cabinet while they hardly had any electoral support. Buncamper-Molanus was forced to step down in December 2010 after just a few months in office because of the Eco-Green scandal. Arrindell lost her job when the cabinet fell.

Marlin said last year that he opposed the current system already ten years ago, mainly because of the fact that candidates with hardly any votes to their names are able to secure seats in parliament on the coattails of their party leaders. Being on the right list matters, something Gracita Arrindell understood when she put her PPA to rest in 2010 and joined Heyliger’s UP.

Marlin also noted that the current system leads to “constant fights.” A candidate may be elected with 300 votes while the next one with five votes less misses the boat.

In the past, Marlin furthermore pointed out, candidates could only win a seat with preferential votes if they had 50 percent plus 1 vote of the number required for a seat. That would not work in St. Maarten: eleven of the fifteen Members of Parliament that were elected in 2010 do not meet this standard – they simply do not have enough votes.

Remarkably, already a year ago Marlin said that time was too short to change the electoral system before the 2014 elections. Prime Minister Wescot-Williams seems to think that there is still time, while the debate about what to do still has to begin. When the festive season is over, there are at best eight months left to change anything and write it into law. The way things are going in St. Maarten, it is not difficult to conclude that electoral reform will remain a hot topic for some time to come, but that nothing will have changed by the time the elections roll around next year.


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