Published On: Wed, Sep 14th, 2022

Proportional Representation in Danger

Julio R. Romney
Political Analyst

With one-third (5 out of 15) Members of Parliament having declared themselves as “Independent Members of Parliament”, this clearly undermines the fabric of our statutory Election System of Proportional Representation and endangered the application of proportional representation. It presents a danger for several reasons.

Chapter 4 of the Constitution clearly states that the composition of Parliament shall be based on proportional representation within the limits to be laid down by national ordinance. This means that the make-up of Parliament is required to reflect or “represent the entire populace of Sint Maarten”, elected by proportional representation.

By National Ordinance / Election Ordinance, this proportional representation is to be achieved through “the division of the total number of votes cast by the electorate by the number of available seats in Parliament”, referred to as “the election quota”. Thereafter, seats are assigned to the election participating political parties as many times as the election quota is included in the number of votes that the political party received. Based on these calculations every participating political party is assigned a number of seats in Parliament in proportion to the number of votes cast for that particular political party. “In other words, a party that wins 10% of votes in the election will also hold 10% of seats.” (Election Ordinance, Explanatory Memorandum, Article 47: Election of Members of Parliament)

Permitting Members of Parliament to declare themselves as “Independent Members of Parliament”, does not appear to have any basis in the Constitution, and allowing them to maintain seats in Parliament does great danger to the constitutionally mandated proportional representation of Parliament. Not only would these seats most likely be occupied by persons who have not received votes equal to or more than the election quota but would be a serious breach of the statutory order allowing for only registered political parties to participate in the election to fill Parliamentary seats.

The rules are clear, our election system is “a system of lists (political parties), not a system of persons (candidates). Candidates are nominated (to fill Parliamentary seats) via the lists that are drawn up by the political parties taking part in an election.” (Election Ordinance, Explanatory Memorandum, Section 2 paragraph 1)

Equally important, the composition and assignment of seats in Parliament are enacted by ministerial regulation on the notification of the Central Voting Bureau. Contradictory, there appears to be no ministerial regulation enacting the present observed change in the composition and assignment of seats in Parliament. The process adopted now simply seems for Members of Parliament to declare themselves as Independent Member of Parliament on the floor of Parliament and thereafter officially notifying Parliament and the Central Voting Bureau of this decision. Such an act is clearly inconsistent with the Constitution and the Election Ordinance.

The Central Voting Bureau needs to provide some explanation and justification for these apparent constitutional inconsistencies. Knowing that it was established by Government as an independent body “to ensure the application of proportional representation as mandated by the Constitution” and to further “execute the voting and election procedures as stipulated and regulated in the Election Ordinance, the Central Voting Bureau has a responsibility here.

The Bureau is to stipulate the legal basis upon which Members of Parliament can declare themselves as Independent Members and maintain a seat in Parliament, a practice that is evidently inconsistent with the principles of proportional representation. Likewise, specify which statutory order or regulation, explicitly or implicitly, affords Parliament the authority to accept the notion of Members of Parliament declaring themselves as an Independent Member effectively ascending them as a new political party faction in Parliament.

In addressing this election system of proportional representation danger, electoral reform is needed now more than ever.