Published On: Sat, Jan 6th, 2018

A new political powerhouse

By Hilbert Haar

The February 26 elections will see the rise of a new political powerhouse if the numbers analyzed are any indication. The merger of Theo Heyliger’s United People’s party with the Democratic Party into the United Democrats seems to open the door for the one-party rule Heyliger has always thought to be the best solution for the island.

The UP won the 2016 elections with 4,130 votes, ahead of the 3,778 votes of the National Alliance and leaving the United St. Maarten party (2,784 votes) and the Democratic Party (1,813 votes) to pick up the crumbs.

But the merger of UP and DP changes the balance of power dramatically. The candidates on the UD-list who also took part in the 2016 elections were good for a combined 5,543 votes in those elections. The candidates on the NA-list that participated in 2016 and are now also candidates won between them 3,122 votes in 2016.

The USp has lost a couple of its major vote getters – in particular Chanel Brownbill (424 votes), Silvio Matser (336 votes) and Anna Rabess-Richardson (163 votes). The candidates left on the USp-slate that also took part in the 2016 elections were together good for just 1,226 votes.

So what do these numbers indicate? The gap between the National Alliance and its main political rivals has widened from 1,165 votes behind the combined result of UP and DP in 2016 to 2,421 based on the results of the current candidates on their respective lists.

If the UD-candidates live up to expectations, their 5,543 votes could be good for almost six seats outright – given an expected quota to win a seat of around 958. With residual seats, the party could just like that grab a majority of eight seats in the 15-seat parliament.

The dark horse in this projection is obviously the behavior of the electorate on February 26. How will they judge the achievements and perceived failures of the Marlin-cabinet? Will they punish the National Alliance and put their fate in the hands of the UD-leadership? If the resentment about the fallout of Hurricane Irma runs deep enough, it could turn these elections into a landslide victory for the UD.

This equation does not include the expected results of the smaller parties. The SMCP did reasonably well in 2016, but not well enough to win a seat; that could be different this time around, because party-leader Wycliffe Smith has kept the SMCP in the public eye with regular publications in local media about the functioning of Parliament.

SDM-leader Benjamin Ortega didn’t do bad either in 2016, though he will still have a tough time finding enough voter support to win a seat.

That leaves the real dark horse in this race – the United St. Maarten party. Robbed of some of its most impressive vote getters it is now up to party leader Frans Richardson to make it happen in February. His campaign will be one without billboards – at least, that’s what Richardson said last year. Instead, he will have to rely on the voter-appeal of candidates like Maria Buncamper-Molanus, the former Minister of Public Health who just might end up in court in the middle of the campaign for the appeal against her conviction for tax fraud. And whatever news comes from that trial, it certainly won’t do her political chances and that of her party any good.