Published On: Sun, Dec 29th, 2019

Amendments bring election ordinance in line with the Constitution

Wycliffe Smith 20180125 - HH

PHILIPSBURG – Rather than come up with a comprehensive package for electoral reform, MP Wycliffe Smith, in his role as caretaker prime minister, already suggested amendments to the Election Ordinance and the National Ordinance Registration and Financing Political Parties in November. The objective: To bring those ordinances in line with the Constitution.

The proposed amendments are rather simple. Smith, leader of the St. Maarten Christian Party, suggests adding a sub 2 to article 21 of the Election Ordinance (Smith accidentally referred to it as article 19 during a Council of Minister press briefing in November when he was still in office as the caretaker prime minister). The second amendment is to article 16 of the National Ordinance Registration and Financing Political Parties.

Smith’s mistake does not take away from his proposed amendments that aim to overcome a conflict with article 59 of the constitution, which authorizes the Council of Ministers to dissolve parliament. Article 59 stipulates that the new parliament has to be installed within three months after the dissolution decree has been published in the National Gazette.

This is where the constitution comes into conflict with the election ordinance and the ordinance registration and financing political parties.

The election ordinance – in its current state – sets the date for presenting candidates (commonly referred to as postulation day) at 90 to 80 days before the date when the new parliament takes office. That works just fine for regular elections, but not for snap elections.

This became clear when the first dissolution decree was published on September 24; it mentioned October 2 as postulation day – just eight days later, and November 25 as Election Day.

This made it impossible for new parties to register with the Electoral Council for these elections, because the current Election Ordinance stipulates that such a registration must take place more than six weeks before postulation day. Furthermore, new members of the Main Voting Bureau have to be appointed 30 days before postulation day.

When all members of the Main Voting Bureau resigned to protest the unconstitutionality of the process, holding elections on November 25 became virtually impossible.

Therefore, the original dissolution decree of September 24 was amended. It appeared in the National Gazette on October 4 and set the date for postulation at November 21, Election Day at January 9, 2020, and the date for the new parliament to take office at February 10, 2020.

These changes allowed newcomer Party for Progress to register properly and timely for the elections with the Electoral Council.

MP Smith’s proposed amendment to the Election Ordinance narrows the timeframe for postulation to 40 to 45 days before the dissolution of parliament.

Furthermore, Smith drafted a proposal to amend the national ordinance registration and financing political parties. Article 16 of this ordinance currently stipulates that parties that want to take part in elections have to be registered no later than six weeks before postulation day.

Smith’s amendment proposes to change this to just ten days,

Had these amendments been in place before the publication of the dissolution decree on September 24, there would not have been any problem. Postulation Day would not have been the impossible date of October 2, but between December 28, 2019 and January 1, 2020.

That would have given the Party for Progress plenty of time to register with a new deadline between December 18 and December 22.

Smith’s draft amendments are ready for Silveria Jacobs’ interim government to send to parliament for approval, after they have gone through the usual advice procedures.


Related links:
CoM PRESS BRIEFING November 13th 2019 – Government of Sint Maarten
Proposed amendments to the electoral ordinance
Governor signs amendment decree to dissolve Parliament and call early elections 2020
Central Voting Bureau resignation puts elections on ice
Governor Holiday requests MP Silveria Jacobs to form interim government
Opinion by Hilbert Haar: “Reforming politicians
Facebook debate about Article 59