Published On: Fri, Nov 8th, 2019

Electoral reform is a must for stability. A Nonpartisan approach is required

Sarah Wescot-Williams - ElectoralPhilipsburg St. Maarten, November 8, 2019 – Without exception, every decree to dissolve the Parliament of Sint Maarten has mentioned electoral reform as a remedy and an action to be undertaken. Every Government since 2010 has initiated some action with respect to electoral reform, even if it was the mere mention of the topic as one that deserved the attention of the Government and Parliament of Sint Maarten.

During my tenure as Prime Minister of the country, I have pursued this matter and sought to execute motions to that effect, passed by Parliament in 2013/2014.

Since in Parliament I have initiated the establishment of an Ad Hoc Electoral Reform Committee (ERC) of Parliament so that Parliament can take a lead in this matter. With the Terms of Reference for the ERC of Parliament back on track, hopefully, this process can proceed without interruption as every elected representative-irrespective of which side of the fence one finds himself/herself- agrees that this reform must come.

We can not continue like this. Of concern is the current trend of an election every other year in a system that is premised on a Parliament that should last four years.

In the whole matter of electoral reform, the right of Government to dissolve Parliament stands out as one of the most contentious. Particularly worrisome is the trend that article 59 of our constitution is subjected to the Government’s view and interpretation. Recently, the government decreed that the period of three months as established by the constitution can be violated if Government feels the circumstances warrant this.

In the case of the January 2020 election, this transgression is “only” about six weeks longer than the constitutional 3-months period. But with the precedent created, where does it stop? What is an acceptable overrun of the 3-months period? What will it be the next time around?

This matter and the “ship-jumping” phenomenon have severely weakened our ability as a country to effectively govern and give account for our governance after the constitutional prescribed four-year term.

In addition, this instability is costing the country millions of guilders EXTRA for payment to departing politicians, new factions in Parliament and elections. All elected and appointed representatives of the people should join hands and address at least the two aforementioned matters as urgent aspects of electoral reform.

I dare say that if this matter is tackled in a nonpartisan manner and all involved recognize the urgency and act accordingly, we can envisage some changes to take effect with the installation of the new Parliament in February 2020.