Published On: Mon, Aug 10th, 2020

Electoral reform: the Lynch-law under review – part 1/2

Lynch Law Review

PHILIPSBURG — The discussion about electoral reform will soon be in full swing, whereby the focus will be on the Lynch-law – actually, an article in the current electoral law that determines who gets elected: candidates with more votes or candidates with a higher position on a party-list.

The arguments against the Lynch-law should be placed in their proper perspective. A reversal would mean that a candidate’s place on a party-list once more becomes the deciding factor. Ironically, this is the system currently in use in Curacao where Partido MAN in 2016 attempted to change it by introducing their own Lynch-law. The Council of Advice advised against this change.

So what are the objections against the Lynch-law? During a political debate triggered by author Hensley Plantijn’s new book ‘The Constitution of Sint Maarten – When it is time to vote’, the following arguments came up. “It undermines the position and influence of parties,” “It has encouraged candidates to engage in vote-buying,” it encourages ship jumping” and “it encourages elected MPs to hold a party hostage.”

The Lynch-law was introduced in 1999 and the architect of this law, Edgar Lynch, became its first victim during the elections for the Island Council in 2003 when, as the number two candidate on the list of the National Alliance, number 11-candidate George Pantophlet outvoted him by a mere three votes (398 to 395).

“As one of the strong candidates of the party my late husband Edgar Lynch proved his point that expanding on the system of preferential votes is more democratic by letting the electorate decide which candidates have their preference,” Dr. Nilda Arduin stated in an invited comment.

Lynch took the last place on his party’s list one time and he was still elected with the second-highest number of votes. But in 2003 he became a victim of the system he introduced: “When the law which he championed cost him his seat in the Island Council by a mere three votes, he graciously bowed out as the electorate had spoken,” Arduin wrote.

The former Ombudsman added a keen observation to her reaction: “The background of the Lynch-law requires political maturity from both the electorate and the candidates. I cautiously observe however that after 10-10-10 the notion about political maturity has drastically shifted, resulting in a different application and understanding of the expansion of the system of preferential votes to be even more democratic.”

Before the introduction of the Lynch-law the political culture in St. Maarten was “that the party leader was number 1 on the list and everyone else on the list were told and expected to campaign and vote for the leader,” says Reynoldt Groeneveldt, who is doing research on political reform. “The party leader would determine the sequence of the other candidates; this gave the party leader a considerable amount of political power and control over the elected members of the Island Council and the Executive Council.”

The Lynch-law changed all that: from there on, candidates with the most votes followed their party-leader into the Island Council and, after 10-10-10, into the Parliament. Until, of course, the elections of 2020 when Frans Richardson, founder and leader of the United St. Maarten party (USp) was beaten out of his seat by Claudius Buncamper and Akeem Arrindell. Richardson’s 216 votes fell short of the results of Buncamper (299) and Arrindell (228). Even candidate number 4 Chanel Brownbill, though not elected, won more votes (221) than his party leader.

One could wonder about the preference of the electorate in a case like this but Groeneveldt – who is an attorney as well as the Deputy Governor of St. Maarten – remains unperturbed: “The voice of the people is important in our democracy.”

The Lynch-law, Groeneveldt points out “limits the power of the political leader because the elected members realize that they have a stronger mandate directly from the electorate.”

And that is what the Constitution intended with the term free mandate: “I do not understand why the other countries in the Kingdom did not adopt a similar change to their voting ordinance.”

Groeneveldt stands firm behind the principles of the Lynch-law. “Today the Lynch-law is blamed for amongst others ship jumping and the more independent-minded members of Parliament, resulting in diminished power of control by the party and the party leaders. I do not agree with the above points of view as I believe the change reflects the intention of the system of the free mandate as regulated in our Constitution.”


Related links:
Book review ‘The Constitution of Sint Maarten – When it is time to vote’ by Hensley Plantijn
Electoral reform: the Lynch-law under fire – part 2