Published On: Tue, Feb 13th, 2018

Instability is here to stay

By Hilbert Haar

More than once, during the more than ten years I have lived and worked in St. Maarten, I have wondered about the sanity of our politicians. The idea that politicians could have the same thoughts about me has for some reason never crossed my mind. I guess that’s my ego talking.

But what about the sanity of the electorate – the good citizens that will or won’t go to the polls on February 26 for the umpteenth time since our island became an autonomous country on 10-10-10?

There is something at work in the minds of our people that simply does not add up. It’s not that people always vote for the same people, but they do vote for people who are always doing the same thing. This way, instability is here to stay, no matter who wins the elections.

UD-leader Theo Heyliger told me once: before the elections I have a party. Once the elections are over it’s just not there anymore.

That’s because candidates, once they have been elected to Parliament, suddenly become aware of their individual power. Nobody is able to kick them out so they do what they want and when favors are denied they go independent faster than Usain Bolt can run a hundred meters. Boom! Another government bites the dust.

Of the candidates who took part in the elections more than ten years ago, in April 2007, eight are still there. The top-five of the National Alliance from 2007 is still involved in politics today, though party-leader William Marlin has in the meantime stepped down as prime minister and as party-leader while Frans Richardson is flying under his own flag these days.

The toppers of the Democratic Party – Sarah Wescot-Williams and Theo Heyliger have also remained in the good graces of the electorate. Formally still with two different parties, the two will be reunited under the UD-banner come February 26.
Comparing the numbers from 2007 with those of the 2016 elections, it appears as if politicians have an expiry date. They all lost voter support over the past ten years – one more than the other of course, but still.

Look at these numbers of votes won (2007 – 2016): Sarah Wescot-Williams (2,188 – 667), Theo Heyliger (1,841 – 1,426), William Marlin (1,593 – 775), Frans Richardson (1,079 – 488), George Pantophlet (506 – 178), Drs. Rodolphe Samuel (381 – 211) and Hyacinth Richardson (379 – 184).

The only one who improved compared to 2007 is former VROMI-minister Christophe Emmanuel. In 2007 he was a candidate for Gracita Arrindell’s People’s Progressive Alliance (PPA), winning a measly 28 votes. In 2016, Emmanuel won 258 votes, a distant third behind Silveria Jacobs (778) and William Marlin (775).

If the declining numbers say anything about the satisfaction-level among the electorate with their representatives, the old guard is going to be in for a rough ride on February 26. The new numbers will show whether that decline is a trend or an aberration.

In this sense, it will be interesting to see how Emmanuel will do, given the recent troubles with the landfill for which he was responsible and for which – in spite of his intentions – he did not manage to present a solution.

As I have written before, there are some unknown factors in these elections that make them rather unique and that could have a huge influence on the outcome.

The main issue concerns the number of voters that are on the island. The registry contains the names of 22,559 eligible voters – around 300 more than in 2016 – but nobody knows how many of them are really here. Many people left the island before or shortly after Hurricane Irma – some reports speak of an exodus of 10,000 – and an unknown number never came back.

With fewer voters, and an expected low turnout, the number of votes needed to win a seat will go down as well and that could make these elections a completely different and rather unique ballgame.