Published On: Thu, Jan 11th, 2018

THE MOTION OF NO CONFIDENCE

In general a Motion is a question or issue put to a vote in Parliament expressing its position on a particular topic or issue, its feelings or view, a desire or an instruction of Parliament on any particular subject. A Motion must be submitted in writing, signed by the presenter and must be seconded by at least 2 other members, before it can be debated and voted on. Some motions are accepted or rejected by a majority vote in Parliament. The motion can relate to any subject and is oftentimes directed towards the Government.

The subject of this article, the motion of No Confidence, is a special motion that has serious constitutional implications and legal consequences for the minister(s) and or the entire Council of Ministers. The motion of No Confidence is a vote in Parliament by which the majority of the members of Parliament express by their vote that the Legislature (Parliament) does not have any confidence in the Executive branch (Council of Ministers). This is a fundamental basic rule of our Parliamentary system, namely that the Government must have the confidence and support of the majority of Parliament, it is known as the Confidence Rule (de vertrouwensregel) in Dutch.

This rule originates from the British Parliamentary system which is known as the Westminster system. This system is used in several European countries, such as the Netherlands, France, the former British colonies, some African Countries, India and Australia. Application of the rule simply means that if the majority in Parliament passes a Motion of No Confidence against one or more ministers or the entire Council of Ministers, the minister(s) and or the Council of Ministers must resign. In other words a minister or the Council of Ministers shall not remain in office if he/she or the council does not have the confidence and support of the majority of Parliament.

This rule was introduced in the Netherlands in 1848 after a number of constitutional incidents and crises between the Government and the Legislature, as a rule of unwritten law. There is no article in the Dutch Constitution anchoring the Confidence Rule. In the Netherlands the Confidence Rule is not codified meaning it is not written in the Constitution or any other law. In spite of this it is observed by the ministers as if it was written in the Constitution.

The Confidence rule was taken over by the former Netherlands Antilles and was codified in our Constitution (Staatsregeling), this means that an article was placed in our Constitution stating that if a minister or the Council of Ministers no longer enjoy the confidence of the majority of Parliament they shall resign.

In the Constitution of Sint Maarten the Confidence Rule is codified in article 33 sub 2 which states:-If a minister no longer enjoys the confidence of Parliament he shall make his function available.- In practice the minister presents his resignation letter to the Governor, the dismissal is then formalized in a National Decree to be signed by the Governor and the Prime Minister. The dismissed minister is subsequently replaced. In case the entire Council of Ministers resigns, the Governor will request the ministers to remain in office and handle the regular day to day matters until a new Government is formed and the new ministers are appointed. This is the only motion to which a consequence is attached by our Constitution when passed by a majority in Parliament. It must be seen as the most severe measure a Parliament can take against one or more ministers or the entire Council of Ministers and is to be considered an “ultimum remedium”, a measure of last resort when all other actions have failed or are useless and the general interest of the Country is at stake.

The Motion of No Confidence is used very sparingly by the countries mentioned above in which the Westminster Parliamentary system is also applied. According to some research information, the last time a Motion of No Confidence was passed in England was on March 28, 1979 against the James Callaghan Cabinet. The Prime Minister requested Queen Elizabeth II to dissolve Parliament which was done on April 7th, 1979. The last Motion of No Confidence brought against a minister in the Netherlands that caused him to resign was in 1994 against minister Professor Hirch Ballin. The practice in the Netherlands now is that the minister will resign even before a motion of No Confidence is introduced. In the Republic of France such a motion was introduced 3 times during the long history of the Republic. It is not customary that a Motion of No Confidence is used to dismiss a Government in order to install a new Government when there is a newly formed majority in Parliament. The Motion of No Confidence is not meant to accommodate “ship jumpers” to remove a sitting Government and to form a new one.

Not every Motion to discipline or express the disapproval by Parliament needs to be a Motion of No Confidence as regulated in article 33 section 2 of our Constitution. Although these are not specifically mentioned or  codified in the Constitution there are several grades of Motions that can be introduced by Parliament to express their disapproval or disgust with a particular minister(s) or the entire Council of Ministers without such resulting in the resignation of the minister(s) and or causing a Cabinet- or Constitutional crises.

A Motion of disapproval (“afkeuring”) can be adopted to express the displeasure of the Parliament against the actions/non-actions or policies of a minister or the entire cabinet of ministers. Such a Motion does not necessarily mean that the minister or cabinet must resign as in the case of a Motion of No Confidence as regulated in article 33 sub 2, but nevertheless the minister or the cabinet can draw its own conclusions and decide to resign.  In the Netherlands a Motion of regret (“treurnis”) or sadness can be moved against particular actions of the ministers. In the British House of parliament such Motions are referred to as Censure Motions.

Parliament can also pass a Motion that the minister(s) of the Council consider as a Motion of No Confidence without such being explicitly stated in the Motion. By being overly critical of a minister or the cabinet of ministers during a debate or in the exchange of the written documents, no confidence can also be expressed. Parliament can also express its displeasure with a particular minister by proposing and adapting  an unacceptable amendment to a draft law submitted by that minister or the cabinet, or by rejecting a submitted law that the minister or the cabinet considers to be very important and essential. Parliament can also by an amendment decrease or withhold the budget of a particular minister indicating displeasure or no confidence in that particular person. Finally the Parliament can also indicate a motion of no confidence by rejecting an entire draft ordinance or the Budget submitted for ratification by the Government.

The Motion of No Confidence is also regulated in the Constitutions of some of our surrounding Countries such as, amongst others, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Barbados, and Saint Lucia. The content of the articles in these Constitution are similar to the text of our article 33 sub 2.

As a counterbalance to the authority of Parliament to approve a Motion of No Confidence against a Minister, the Council of Ministers also has a constitutional provision by which it can decide to dissolve Parliament and call for new elections to be held within a period of 90 days. This provision is also found in the Constitutions of the above mentioned regional countries whose system of Government is also derived from the Westminster Parliamentary system. The Right to Dissolve the Parliament is regulated in article 59 of our Constitution and will be further expanded on in a subsequent article.

Motions of No Confidence are very rarely moved and or adopted in these Parliaments. Since the inception of our Parliament in 2010, three (3) Motions of No Confidence have been adopted by our Parliament resulting in a Cabinet’s Crises, the Parliament being dissolved and consequently, snap elections being organized.

It could be concluded based on the above mentioned that the Motion of No Confidence is being used to frivolously by our Parliament members for situations for which it was not intended. Perhaps our Parliament members should engage in more intense debates and negotiations in order to resolve problems and find suitable solutions to deal with the issues of the people instead of resorting to a Motion of No Confidence.

The use of articles 33 sub 2 and article 59 of our Constitution should be used sparingly and should be only used as measures of last resort and for the purpose and in situations for which they were originally intended.

Trivia Questions:

  • In which article of our Constitution is the Confidence Rule codified?
  • In a regulation established by Parliament it is stipulated how a Motion is presented. What is the name of this Regulation?
  • In which article of this Regulation is it stated how a Motion can be introduced?