Published On: Sun, Jan 28th, 2024

12 points about the January parliamentary elections

~ Vox populi, vox Dei! ~

By Fabian A. Badejo

GREAT BAY, St. Martin (January 23, 2024)—That Latin aphorism, “Vox populi, vox Dei” simply means “the voice of the people (is) the voice of God.” In our own parlance in St. Martin, we would say, “the people have spoken.”

But what did the people really say with the results of the last parliamentary elections held in the southern part of our island on January 11, 2024? Here are 12 points that stood out for me:

  1. Six out of the eight lists got seats in the new Parliament? That’s 75% of the contesting lists.
  2. Every government requires at least a simple majority support in parliament. That’s a minimum of eight seats. The so-called “2 x 4” agreement signed between the four lists with two seats each gives the projected incoming government exactly that.
  3. We must also note that the outgoing coalition government similarly consisted of four factions—NA, (4), UP, (2), Brownbill, and Arrindell—with a total of eight seats. This coalition lasted over a year and half, providing the “stability” that became the buzzword during the election campaign.

Yet, we have seen in the recent past, coalitions boasting the support of 10 seats in parliament crumble like crackers in less time. This goes to show that “stability” does not depend on numbers alone but on the Members of Parliament (MPs) supporting the government.

  1. The electorate was asked to choose 15 members of parliament out of a field of 130 candidates, and they did just that. The system does not allow them to choose a (coalition) government. That is left to the MPs they elect to figure out.

All the different interpretations of the election results that claim that the electorate wanted this or that coalition government in or out of office can be considered subjective because that is not what the voters were asked to do when they went to the polls.

  1. Each voter had to choose one out of 130 candidates who were not significantly different from one another in ideas. That’s a daunting choice to make. So, they returned nine out of the 15 who were seeking reelection. This means 60% of the outgoing parliament will be returning.
  2. This could, in fact, be interpreted as saying the electorate was satisfied with the work of the majority of the MPs. However, such an interpretation would not be based on objective facts. But elections are not a scientific examination.
  3. The issue of “mandate” is one that is sometimes misunderstood. “In representative democracies, a mandate is a perceived legitimacy to rule through popular support. Mandates are conveyed through elections, in which voters choose political parties and candidates based on their own policy preferences.” (Wikipedia)

In the case of St. Martin, we are not a representative democracy and we do NOT vote for political parties per se, but INDIVIDUAL candidates. As a matter of fact, the “Constitution” of the territory does not recognize political parties. But that’s a different discussion.

What is important to know here is that whatever combination of MPs that results in a coalition government with the backing of at least eight (a majority) seats in parliament can be said to have a legitimate “mandate.”

  1. The electorate “punished” the “party hijackers,” that is, those candidates who took over political groups and sidelined the founders of those organizations.
  2. The electorate also made it clear that posters and other campaign paraphernalia don’t necessarily win elections.

The fact that many voters went out to vote without sporting their candidates’ T-shirts, and for example, with hardly any bumper stickers visible, also indicates that they were not interested in overtly demonstrating their political allegiances as has been customary until now.

  1. Some major political leaders were outpolled by candidates on their own lists. But while “leadership” is generally decided at the “party” congress, performance at the polls is often considered a deciding factor for leadership. Obviously, intra-“party” rivalry for votes has become, in many cases, stronger than competing lists.
  2. The turnout at the parliamentary elections of January 11, 2024, was 66% of the electorate. That’s a healthy turnout by any metric. It falls within the general norm for elections on both halves of the island.
  3. However, it also means that 34% of the electorate did not come out to vote! That’s one-third of the eligible voters or one in every three! What does that say about the elections, the electoral process, and the candidates?

Editor’s note: Fabian A. Badejo is a culture critic, author, and senior St. Martin journalist.

Photo caption: Fabian A. Badejo, senior St. Martin journalist, culture critic, author. Background graphs (L) for design purpose only. (© FAB/HNP//Tackling Photography.)