Published On: Mon, Dec 13th, 2021

Never a dull moment

By Hilbert Haar

A political crisis? I don’t think so. Of course, it is unique that the only two members of the United St. Maarten party (USp) – Claudius Buncamper and Akeem Arrindell – have declared themselves independent, and that as a result of those actions the USp is no longer represented in parliament. That the party under its new leader Pamela Gordon-Carty is unhappy with this turn of events is understandable.

Buncamper and Arrindell have done nothing else than practicing the time-honored tradition of ship jumping. Why they did this is unclear, vague or incomprehensible. Most likely there are personal interests at stake.

The party speaks in a press statement of “a serious constitutional issue” and now it is looking for a clarification of the term proportional representation.

“Both the constitution and electoral laws speak to the allocation of seats in parliament to the party list and not (to) individual candidates,” the press release states.

For a simple explanation of the term proportional representation I did not have to dig deep. The elucidation with the electoral law says the following about it: “In line with article 47 of the constitution, the electoral law is based on the system of proportional representation. Every political party gets the number of seats that is proportionate to the number of votes that party received.”

Article 47 of the constitution: “The members of parliament are elected based on proportional representation within the limitations set forth in a national ordinance.”

That ordinance is the Electoral Law.

Note that the constitution does not state that seats are allocated to party lists. The members of parliament are the ones being elected. Whether this is right or wrong could obviously be up for debate, but currently, that’s the way it is.

Article 98 of the Electoral Law also does not allocate seats in parliament to party lists. It does say – and this is slightly confusing – that to fill the seats that have been allocated to each list “the candidates that received a number of votes that is equal to or higher than the list quota are elected.”

The list quota is found by dividing the number of votes a party won by the number of seats it won. For the USp, which won 1,762 votes and two seats in the last election, the list quota therefore would be 881. Not a single USp-candidate won that many votes. Buncamper won 299 votes, Arrindell 228, twelve ahead of party founder Frans Richardson (216).

The electoral law is simple: if no candidate wins votes equal to or higher that the list quota, the seats go to the candidates with the highest number of votes. In this case: Buncamper and Arrindell.

“”Candidates are ranked based on the number of votes they won, starting with the one who won the most votes,” article 98 states.

The elucidation furthermore notes: “Only the number of votes a candidate won determines whether he or she qualifies for filling a seat allocated to the list.”

Reading all this makes me realize that the relevant law is a minefield. It is open to different interpretations. What to make of terms like “seats allocated to a list”? Does this really mean that seats belongs to a list – in other words: a party – and not to the candidate who won the votes? It is not entirely clear.

This confusion opens the door for complaints. But wait: who is making the laws in this country? The parliament is the legislative arm of the government. It has the power to submit initiative laws. It has the power to votes those initiatives into law. So why is this not happening? Why is nobody coming up with a concept that prevents complete factions from being pushed to the sidelines?

I am not an expert on constitutional or electoral law. but I have noticed over the years that politicians like to talk a lot about electoral reform – mostly when there is a so-called crisis happening – but I have also noticed that when push comes to shove nobody is doing anything.

This can only mean that our current crop of politicians is satisfied with the status quo. The option of ship jumping gives individual MPs power – depending on their position, sometimes even an awful lot – and they do not want to give it up.

That the USp is now on the receiving end of such a system does not make this different. Only the two ship jumpers know why they did what they did. If they stick to the examples set by their predecessors I suspect that no explanation – at least not one that makes sense – will ever see the light of day.

Welcome to politics in St. Maarten. Never a dull moment.


Related articles:
USP: Clarification to be sought on proportional representation
Pamela Gordon-Carty elected new political leader of USP
USP to restructure party operations