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St. Maarten prime minister to review electoral laws to guarantee more stable governements

THURSDAY, 29 NOVEMBER 2012

PHILIPSBURG–Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams says she will devote all her attention to reviewing and suggesting changes to the country’s Constitution and electoral law with the goal “to guarantee a more stable government” for St. Maarten in the future. “At this stage in St. Maarten’s young life as a country what we need is stability and transparency towards the people we represent.”

Speaking at Wednesday’s Council of Ministers press conference, the prime minister said she knew her statement and approach on this issue would create much debate in the community and she looked forward to this.

“I think it is necessary and I will give that all my attention to look for ways and means and to look within our legislation – Constitution and otherwise – to see where we can create a basis that will give the government – any government at any particular time – the stability whether in a coalition or not.”

The goal also would be to ensure that all governments present a governing programme to the people that would be executed throughout the governing term and on which the people will judge elected officials at the end of their term, she further explained. Such an approach will ensure that a party or a coalition government has “a clear vision that is known to the population.”

Wescot-Williams has raised the issue of changes to the electoral laws in the past. It has come to the forefront again because some parties in Curaçao are calling for electoral changes after a Member of Parliament (MP) there broke with his party over a disagreement about the way forward with a new government.

Curaçao and St. Maarten have the same electoral system. Under that system, candidates for Parliament are grouped on slates put together by political parties. Seats are allotted based on the number of ballots cast for the party in totality and allocated based on the leading vote-getters.

In all parts of the Dutch Kingdom, governments have fallen because one or more MPs had decided to pull their support from a government their party supported or from the party itself by declaring themselves independent.

Wescot-Williams said the electoral laws of the country and the need for review had come up in the preparations for country-within-the-Dutch-Kingdom status, which was achieved on October 10, 2010; however, there was “not enough time to see if changes were desired.”

As changes are explored, one thing is for sure, according to the prime minister: that St. Maarten will “not go the way of Curaçao.” The suggestion from parties on that island is for candidates running on a party’s slate to sign a declaration prior to the elections stating that if they are elected that seat in Parliament belongs to the political party and not to them personally.

The Advisory Council of Curaçao has reviewed that approach and has labelled it “unconstitutional.”

Another argument when this matter was raised in the past is that jurisprudence in the Kingdom is not in favour of changes that would tie parliamentary seats to a political party.

Looking at electoral law changes from a broader perspective, Wescot-Williams pointed to the governmental issues in The Netherlands which has been operating on “democratic principles for centuries,” but still encounters problems with stable governments. St. Maarten is “a young country” in all aspects, she noted.

Wescot-Williams said she was sure she would receive support for her “endeavour” to make changes to the electoral laws.
There is time now to do the law reviews, make changes to the laws and Constitution, she said. “Right now in St. Maarten, it is not a matter of urgency to say we are jumping here or there. As politicians and political parties we can have that debate about our electoral system and the matter of seats.”

Since October 10, 2010, St. Maarten has had one government change resulting from a member of the United People’s (UP) party, now-independent MP Romain Laville, withdrawing his support from the UP/Democratic Party (DP)/Illidge coalition headed by Wescot-Williams. That coalition crumbled further when independent MP Patrick Illidge and DP MPs Leroy de Weever and Roy Marlin also pulled their support from the government.

That gave rise to the current National Alliance/DP/independent three (I-3) coalition, of which Wescot-Williams is Prime Minister.

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