Published On: Fri, Aug 5th, 2022

A missed opportunity

By Hilbert Haar

Maybe it is just me but I was severely scratching my head when I read the questions in the survey launched by Prime Minister Jacobs as part of her electoral reform campaign. I mean, if you intend to gather information from the public about the topic, why ask them stuff like: do you know what electoral reform is? Or: would you like to know more about electoral reform?

How are answers to such questions going to be helpful?

Related article: PM Jacobs launches electoral reform campaign

I lost it already when I read question number four: Does the current electoral system properly reflect voters’ choices?

Well, duh. Of course it does. Maybe some respondents feel like answering that is doesn’t, but then what? I cannot help wondering: did the government actually pay somebody to come up with these senseless questions?

The survey creates the impression that the government has no clue about where it wants to go with this reform-process. Or maybe it wants to keep its cards close to the chest. Otherwise, why ask participants which changes they would like to see?

It would have been much better to come up with a position on reform and to ask participants whether or not they agree with it.

In this sense, the survey contains just one question that makes sense: asking whether people support the idea of voting separately for members of parliament and for the position of prime minister.

From the definition at the top of the survey I get at least an idea about where the government wants to take this issue: “Electoral reform refers to making changes that will set the stage for a more stable political environment for governments to come.”

A more stable political environment; Wouldn’t that be something? Currently, St. Maarten is world champion in the field of changing governments and I agree: it is about time to take measures to lose that title.

The current system allows members of parliament to do whatever they want. Candidates join a list, not based on ideology but on the odds of getting elected to an overpaid job. So during a campaign these candidates are full-blown members of whichever political party they have chosen but after the elections everything changes.

MPs declare themselves independent faster and more frequently than a decent lady changes her underwears. Ship jumpers, or rather the possibility to jump ship, are or is the main reason for the persistent political instability in St. Maarten. But the survey does not address this issue at all and that is what I call a missed opportunity.

Solving the ship jumping-issue may not be a walk in the park, but the survey could have been an excellent opportunity to ask the public for some free advice: how do you think we can make sure that politicians toe the line and stay with their party after an election?

Not that this would guarantee political stability because even as a member of any faction, parliamentarians can still vote their conscience, even if this goes against the party-line.

Maybe we have to look at what happens if a government loses its majority in parliament. Right now it means that the government has to step down. There could be an immediate change of government or there could be new elections. All this is costly and certainly not productive.

Why not keep the government in place and let it govern with minority support? The parliament could vote in favor of proposals that are beneficial to the community and against initiatives they disagree with. It does not change the balance of power and one could even say that such a situation increases the power of parliament. But it would certainly increase political stability.

The survey recommended by the prime minister completely overlooks this. And that is a pity.


Related articles & links:
Electoral Reform SXM survey on SurveyMonkey.com
PM Jacobs launches electoral reform campaign
Prime Minister Jacobs spearheads electoral reform survey
Evaluating politicians: “Everyone is selfish”