Winners and losers: who will survive the polls in February?

POSTED: 10/30/15 7:03 PM


St. Maarten / By Hilbert Haar – February 9, 2016 is crunch day for politicians and those who aspire to become one. The parliamentary elections – for some mysterious reason perceived by some as ‘snap elections’, whatever that may be – will give voters the opportunity to speak their mind about the constitutional drama that concluded on Wednesday when the ministers of the Marcel Gumbs cabinet tendered their resignation and Governor Drs. Eugène Holiday signed the national decree to dissolve the parliament.

Who will be the winners and who will be the losers in this battle at the polls, just 17 months after the August 2014 elections? Candidates that are on the right list, will be able to get by with 204 votes as a minimum to grab one of the fifteen coveted seats in parliament.

In 2014, Johan Leonard grabbed the seventh seat in the faction of the United People’s party faction with just 204 votes. He is the incumbent parliamentarian with the lowest number of votes to his name.

Five candidates who won more votes than Leonard did not make it into the parliament because they were on the wrong list. Rodolphe Samuel (244), Hyacinth Richardson (208) and Romeo Pantophlet (206) ran with the National Alliance. Emil Lee (285) and Sidharth ‘Cookie’ Bijlani (218) rand with the Democratic Party. They all missed the boat because their party leaders did not carry enough weight with the voters.

Leonard slipped into parliament on the coattails of his party leader Theo Heyliger (1945 votes) and, to a lesser extent, of Franklin Meyers (614) and Silvio Matser (498). The votes on the UP-list of the fifteen candidates that did not get a seat, total 2,058 – good for 2.1 seats. (The threshold to win a seat in 2014 was 963 votes).

The National Alliance fielded twenty candidates and fourteen did not win a seat, though together these fourteen brought in 1,704 votes – good for 1.8 seats.

The Democratic Party went to the polls with 18 candidates and won two seats. The other sixteen candidates propped up the list with 1,275 votes – 1.3 seats. Without them, the DP would have had a hard time.

With the defection of MPs Maurice Lake and Silvio Matser the UP lost 808 potential votes – or 13 percent of the 6,211 votes it won in 2014. It is not dramatic, but not insignificant either.

The question is: where will these defectors find a new political home? If they both joined the National Alliance, they would propel the potential total of this party to 4,873 votes and maybe help the party to win a fifth seat.

In 2014, Matser and Lake handily beat the number four and five vote-getter on the National Alliance list. Christophe Emmanuel (246 votes) and Rodolphe Samuel (244). Matser (498) and Lake (310) would take these spots.

If Matser and Lake hopped to the Democratic Party their 2014 votes would be good for the number 2 and 3 spot and kick the party’s total to 3,150, which seems just enough to claim three seats.

Their worst bet would be a move to the United St. Maarten Party. Their votes would bring the US to 2,444 votes but that will bring the party most likely just two seats.

There are two more independents looking for a political life vest: Cornelius de Weever and Leona Marlin-Romeo.

De Weever might join the UP list and if his voter support holds up (378 in 2014) he is certain to return to parliament, as long as the big vote getters – Theo Heyliger and Franklin Meyers – remain strong. Marlin-Romeo does not have anywhere else to go either, but as a member of the UP-faction she would probably be able to stay the course, unless voters are going to punish her for jumping ship in 2014 from Frans Richardson’s US party to political independence.

Much depends obviously on the way the electorate will react to the constitutional crisis. The new majority of eight withdrew its confidence in the incumbent cabinet for no obvious reason and voters may have become weary of this behavior after five years of political instability.

If the electorate goes that way, the votes Matser and Lake won in 2014 are not secure at all, a fate that could also befall the electoral support for ship jumpers Cornelius de Weever and Leona Marlin-Romeo. Come to think of it, it could very well be that the ship jumpers will survive the onslaught at the pools in February but that some of those who supported them, for instance a moderate vote-getter like Christophe Emmanuel, will see their political career come to a full stop.

The result of the elections, in the end, will depend very much on the strength of the party list. In that respect, 2014 was a slam dunk victory for the UP: 18 of the 22 candidates won more than 100 votes. Of the 20 candidates on the National Alliance list, only 10 won more than 100 votes. The Democratic Party, with 18 candidates, had seven of them hit the century mark and the US party had just five candidates with more than 100 votes.

What the field will look like, we will learn in December, when parties postulate their lists. The outsiders could not make the difference in 2014. Lenny Priest’s One St. Maarten People party picked up 169 votes while the Social Reform Party of Jacinto Mock – a one man gang – did not do that bad at all with 131 votes.

And what will environmentalist Rueben Thompson do? After his disappointment with Citizens for Positive Change last year, Thompson became the number three vote-getter on the US-list with 151 votes; it seems that he will need a strong list to advance his political ambitions.

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