Published On: Mon, Aug 10th, 2020

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

Lynch Law Review

~ Curacao sticks to system that favors position on candidate-list ~

PHILIPSBURG – St. Maarten’s current electoral law – oft referred to as the Lynch-law after its architect – determines that candidates with the highest number of votes are elected over candidates with a higher position on a party-list.

The system was introduced 21 years ago at the initiative of the late Edgar Lynch. Is it still a valid system? That question does the rounds among those who feel that it is time for a change and to let a candidate’s place on a list decide about the outcome of an election.

Lynch figured at the time that his system was more democratic: it reflects the wish of the electorate. But the present-day opponents of this train of thought argue that the Lynch-law undermined the power of political parties and their leadership.

The discussion about these two opposing approaches to electoral legislation is not new. Already back in 2016 Partido MAN attempted to introduce its own Lynch-law in Curacao. It did not happen and up to this day, the place on party-lists in Curacao is decisive for a candidate’s election.

Partido MAN submitted an initiative-law to the Council of Advice in Willemstad on June 15, 2016. The Council handled it on October 3 of the same year. For MAN, the result was disappointing.

The Council of Advice, headed by former Lt. Governor Lisa Dindial as its vice-chair, identified a major stumbling block before it even got to the content of the initiative law. “Decisions about designing new legislation will only be taken after the necessity to do this has been established,” the Council notes in its advice, dated October 6, 2016.

“The Council cannot derive from the explanatory memorandum why it is necessary or desirable to further democratize the electoral system in Curacao. The argument of the initiator that democratizing electoral systems is a trend and that the system is already being applied in St. Maarten is insufficient to justify such a far-reaching change of the electoral system for the parliament.”

In other words: changing a system because another country has done it already is not a valid reason for the establishment of new legislation. Electoral reform “must be based on solid research that shows that the proposed solution is the correct solution,” the Council observes.

The Council is unable to come to a definite conclusion, but it is at the same time not able to give a positive advice. “It is difficult for the Council to establish whether the proposed far-reaching change of the electoral system is necessary or desirable.”

The explanatory memorandum with Curacao’s current electoral law states that the population has “internalized” essential parts of the system and that it is therefore familiar with the way the electoral system functions. “Therefore there must be justified reasons before action can be taken to reform the current system. The population must be informed in a timely and correct manner about the intended reform.” The Council notes that MAN’s initiative law does not specify in its explanatory memorandum how the population will be informed and what the costs of this information campaign will be.

The Council is critical of the MAN-proposal where it stipulates that the position on a candidate-list is decisive in case two candidates win the same number of votes. Indirectly, this gives political parties influence on the outcome of an election, the Council observes. The objective of the initiative-law is to let the electorate, and not the political parties, determine the make-up of the Parliament. Therefore, the Council advises that it makes more sense to determine the outcome by lot in such situations: “It is more democratic because it gives those candidates equal chances to be elected.”

The initiative-law remains what it was back in 2016: an initiative. And therefore, in the current situation, a candidate’s place on a list in Curacao still remains more important than the number of votes he or she wins in an election.


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 1