Published On: Sun, Dec 29th, 2019

Reforming politicians

Hilbert HaarBy Hilbert Haar

The amendments to election-related ordinances proposed by Sint Maarten Christian Party leader Wycliffe Smith seamlessly solve the existing conflicts between these ordinances and the constitution.

Article 59 of the constitution remains nevertheless a political hot potato. This article authorizes the Council of Ministers to dissolve the parliament. In recent years this has happened twice after a government received a vote of no confidence from the parliament.

If the parliament hits, the government is entitled to strike back. This is how constitutional expert Prof. Arjen van Rijn once characterized this situation.

Parliamentarians on the wrong end of the stick – those who supported the motion of no confidence and afterwards ran the risk of losing their seat in new elections – have been making a habit of criticizing the government for invoking article 59. That is, in my opinion, turning the world upside down.

Understanding – or rather, appreciating – this mechanism requires a closer look at why the parliament has used its no confidence-power to send a government home. The motion that sent the Leona Romeo-Marlin government home in September – one day after publication of the dissolution decree in the National Gazette – shows that the opposition had no credible reasons for doing so.

The first argument was that UD-MP Franklin Meyers had declared himself independent and that therefore the government had lost its majority. But Meyers had no intention to join the opposition; there was a political stalemate with seven coalition members and seven opposition MPs – and Meyers in the middle.  The opposition only created a new majority after the defection of UD-MPs Chanel Brownbill and Luc Mercelina.

The opposition labeled the decision to dissolve the parliament in its motion as “selfish, politically motivated and a blatant abuse of our constitution.”

But the motion contained no real arguments to validate a motion of no confidence.

Terrance Rey, the publisher of stmaartennews.com and the number 12 candidate on the list of the Sint Maarten Christian Party (SMCP), is of the opinion that there is nothing wrong with article 59. And I agree: the article is unconditional. It reads under sub 1: parliament may be dissolved by national decree. No ifs and no buts.

It is the only tool the electorate has to let their voices be heard against parliament, Rey says, adding that the article is “a perfect safeguard against a rogue parliament.”

Rey has more to say about the topic and I gladly make his opinion my own: “Politicians need to grow spines, stand up straight for what is right and do the honorable thing when called upon to do so. There would be no need for the use of article 59 if politicians behaved themselves in an honorable fashion. They like to put the word ‘honorable’ in front of their names but some of them do not know what it means to be honorable.”

SMCP-leader Wycliffe Smith has drafted sensible amendments to election-related ordinances. These amendments will solve the existing conflicts with the constitution, but they do not address the behavior of power-hungry parliamentarians that are ready to send their government home on a whim.

I have no solution for ship jumping; given the fact that this topic has been around for a very long time it seems to me that our politicians do not have that solution either – or they are not interested in giving up a part of their power.

Since electoral reform on this front seems to be elusive, it is up to the electorate to take a stand – not by coming up with proposals for electoral reform but by reforming politicians through the power of their vote.

###

Related links:
CoM PRESS BRIEFING November 13th 2019 – Government of Sint Maarten
Proposed amendments to the electoral ordinance
Governor signs amendment decree to dissolve Parliament and call early elections 2020
Central Voting Bureau resignation puts elections on ice
Governor Holiday requests MP Silveria Jacobs to form interim government
Facebook debate about Article 59