PHILIPSBURG - The St. Maarten Hospitality & Trade Association (SHTA) has taken notice of the discussions in the community regarding these three (3), intermingled, but different issues. SHTA would like to stress that in addressing any of these issues, cause and effect must be judged independently.
At present there are four discussions: We are experiencing a period of political instability; The instability is due to ship-jumping; This is not what people voted for.
And the conclusion that is drawn from the aforementioned: this is all bad.
The SHTA would like to briefly touch on each of these points.
We are experiencing a period of political instability
Is this really the case?
Parliament is politics. This is not to be confused with Ministers who are appointed by Parliament. In 2010 we voted in our first Parliament and they sat in their chairs for 4 years. In 2014 we elected a new Parliament, most of whom largely remain in their seats today. During each Parliament various coalitions were formed, each of which appointed Ministers. After every reshuffle of allegiances a set of appointed Ministers are sent packing. Nothing prevents the current 15 members from running for re-election. Thus this is not really a picture of instability. Conclusion: Indecisive and ineffective, Yes. Unstable? Not really.
While there is this “stability” within the elected body, the changing of the executive body every few month’s does result in an unstable government, reduced decision making and further inefficient execution of the people’s business. Thus the conversation needs to be broadened from Parliament alone to about stabilizing all of Government.
The instability is due to ship-jumping
Somehow the perceived instability, is due to “ship-jumpers”; those that feel their conscience no longer allows them to remain loyal to the party they were elected with. Their right to do so is protected in our Constitution.
Is this something we want to prevent?
If voters don’t want elected officials to act according to their individual conscience, it is simply a matter of not voting for them. Imagine our highest elected representatives being forced by law to cast aside their principles for the good of the Party.
This is not what the people voted for
Again, it misses the point. It may not be what the voters expected when they voted, but this Parliament was elected by the voters according to the rules as they are defined by our Constitution and laws. The people got exactly what they voted for according to our laws.
This is all bad
Supposedly this is bad; bad for business and the economy; bad for society; bad for progress; bad for everything. This too needs to be considered carefully. Is it really bad? Would we be better off if that initial carnival coup in 2011, didn’t happen? Would we have had more sustainable development? A higher standard of living? Access to better medical care?
Maybe, maybe not.
That we don’t have the above mentioned improvements is in fact due to an ineffective Parliament, not instability or ship-jumping. In fact, ship-jumpers tend to indicate that they are disappointed with the slow change and not being able to do more for the people.
Our current ruling coalition seems to want to, if not get rid of, at least postpone, the February elections. This in order to introduce electoral reform that will prevent ship-jumping, because ship-jumping is bad (the reasoning explained above). They are steering us right into what will be called a Constitutional crisis.
We need to consider carefully whether we want to hold a couple of ship-jumpers responsible for our ineffective government. That ineffectiveness can easily be attributed to the 15 members equally. Nobody just jumps off a perfectly good ship. Could Parliament/Government have been more effective in moving us forward? Absolutely. Did a couple of ship-jumpers prevent them from doing so? That is hard to believe and frankly an insult to taxpayers intelligence.
As per November 2015 we have a new majority in Parliament. They have sent home the Ministers who promptly called for a dissolution of Parliament and new elections. The Ministers go home, new Ministers are appointed and the new political leaders inform the population that they will “let us know” what their decision is. The argument being that we shouldn’t have elections until Parliament decides how to deal with electoral reform/ship-jumping. Of the current 15 members of parliament 5, no less than 1/3, have at some point jumped ship. That alone doesn’t bode well for a desirable outcome.
The espoused way of dealing with ship-jumpers appears to be to try to prevent it legislatively by forcing those that didn’t muster enough votes for an outright seat to have to give up their seat to the party if they decide to become independent. That reasoning is just plain flawed.
Here are just a couple of issues that will come up:
What would happen in parties where no-one had an outright seat?
What happens if the seat is a residual seat?
Does the person jumping get to at least take their personal votes away from the party?
Do we then go back and recalculate the whole thing, possibly re-shifting many seats?
Do they get to take their votes to another party and add them to that total?
What if then there’s enough votes for another seat?
What would be the outcome if this is applied to our current Parliament? Where 2 members split from their respective parties right after the elections. Would they have split? Probably not. Would they have voted along the party lines? Not very likely either. The likely outcome would have probably been even more political instability and deal-making.
The make-up of candidate lists for the next election would not benefit from this change either. Political leaders would try to limit the possibility of other party members winning outright seats, thus keeping “control”. This is not an incentive to populate your list with capable independent thinking people.
Given the above, why should elections wait for an adjustment that will not have the desired stabilizing effect? Why not just have elections and hope that this time the voters get it right?
However, the real question should be:
How can we voters increase the chance of electing an effective Government?
This is where elements of Electoral Reform could be in order. In our opinion there are some specific options that we could do right now to reduce the above misnomers and improve the effectiveness of Government:
Reduce the number of Members of Parliament.
The fifteen (15) highest vote-getters are elected to Parliament, regardless of total Party votes.
Every voter gets to vote for each of the 15 different MPs, as in the US where you get a vote for each of the open positions.
This way nobody rides into Parliament on anyone else’s coattails and every voter has the opportunity to voice what they want Parliament to work for as a whole. You can vote from 1 to 15. You can vote party-lines if so inclined or just indicate who you think the best candidates for parliamentary seats are. Reducing the number of Parliamentarians would drastically reduce the cost of Government so even if they remain as ineffective at least it isn’t costing us as much.
Reduce the number of Members of Parliament.
Impose a district voting system, where Parliamentary seats are assigned based on the number of voters per district and they run only within.
These options will have better results and are more practical than legislating against ship-jumping. They are relatively easy to implement, easy to understand, and do not take away from anyone’s democratic rights. It would behoove us to simplify things, especially legislation, as opposed to trying to add little rules in order to close loopholes that were created by rules in the first place. These points and many others as yet undefined are missing from the discussion presently being held in Parliament, and in the Council of Ministers. This is yet another sign of their ineffectiveness.
Today we are informed that an attempt will be made to postpone the called for elections, until there has been some form of electoral reform implemented. Government will be putting the Governor in an impossible position and risking that this decision is left to the Kingdom Council of Ministers.
SHTA strongly agrees with the new political parties in the protest against postponing elections. In fact, we have recently done 2 surveys of our members who overwhelming disapprove of the postponement of elections.
The very idea to postpone the elections is a very slippery slope. If Parliament would be allowed to postpone elections, this would be worrisome precedent. Adding the very broad basis of “until there is electoral reform” is even more so. What happens in 2018 if there hasn’t been any electoral reform, will Government then attempt to postpone that election as well? Indefinitely? Expecting the beneficiaries of a broken system to fix the system is an unrealistic expectation and the only ones that will suffer for it are the people.
Going to the polls can NEVER be termed undemocratic. Going to the polls does not infringe on anyone’s right to elect representation. Deciding to postpone elections, could be termed undemocratic, that does infringe on the voter’s Constitutional rights.
For emphasis we hereby quote two important articles from our Constitution:
Art 35: Ministers shall refrain from debating and voting on issues, including appointments, suspensions and dismissals, that personally concern them, their spouses or relations by blood or affinity to the second degree, or in which they are involved as mandatories.
Article 53 1. Members of Parliament shall refrain from debating and voting on issues, including appointments, suspensions and dismissals, that personally concern them, their spouses or relations by blood or affinity to the second degree, or in which they are involved as mandatories.
It appears that our political leaders cannot agree on what should happen. In such a case the only option is to go to the polls and let the voters decide. Not a Judge, not the Governor and not the Kingdom Council of Ministers. Let the voters decide and then we can all move forward. People have sacrificed their lives so that we have the possibility of voting. It is not just a democratic right, it’s a duty. See you at the polls!
The SHTA is dedicated to bringing quality to all aspects of life on St. Maarten by promoting sustainable economic development for its members in cooperation with the social partners and the creation of a fair marketplace. For more information please contact our offices at 542-0108 or visit our website atwww.shta.com.