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Postponing Elections is Unconstitutional.

wycliffesmith08022017Many people are saying they are fed up and tired of elections and that they are not going out to vote. Since 2010 Sint Maarten has had three elections. In September 2010, August 2014, and September 2016. And on February 26, 2018 the voters of Sint Maarten will have to go to the polls for the fourth time since 2010. Four elections in eight years is an average of one election every two years. This frequent demand on the voter to go to the polls has resulted in voter fatigue and election apathy. SMCP truly understands the voter’s resistance to the upcoming parliamentary elections. Nevertheless, SMCP still encourages every voter to go out and vote! Your vote can make the difference in bringing about a change in parliament and consequently in government. Who knows, we may just get it right this time!

Given the devastation to Sint Maarten due to hurricane Irma, elections should have been the last thing for the Government and the Governor to call for at this time. However, since the election process has been duly initiated according to article 59 of the constitution, the Government has no other choice than to uphold the constitution and let the people go to the polls on February 26, 2018.

Being able to elect our members of parliament is one of our fundamental rights according to article 23 of the constitution. Under a normal governing cycle, this happens every four years. But, whenever government decides to dissolve parliament then, according to article 59, a new parliament must convene within three months. Unfortunately, the old electoral laws from the Island Council days were never amended and synchronized with the constitution of Sint Maarten. That is why there is now a serious conflict between the constitution and the electoral ordinance in relation to the election date and the time period between, for example, the closing of the voters’ registry, the registration of political parties with the Electoral Council and the establishing of the postulation date.

If the Central Voting Bureau were to follow the time sequence specified in the election ordinance then the Bureau would need more than the three months stipulated in the constitution to complete the election process. The synchronization of the election ordinance with the constitution falls under electoral reform. The people of Sint Maarten expected that electoral reform would have taken place when the Governor extended the election date by six months in 2016 (namely from February 9th to September 26th). At that time, the five new parties contesting the 2016 elections objected to and protested this unconstitutional decision by the Governor, yet he still went ahead and postponed the elections in contravention of the constitution. Electoral reform will be one of the first laws SMCP intends to work on when elected to Parliament.
Governments in Sint Maarten seem to have no respect for our constitution. In 2015 the Marlin Government disregarded article 59 of the constitution by postponing the elections by six months. SMCP understands that the incoming UP/DP/Brownbill government also intends to submit a national ordinance to the Governor for the postponement of the upcoming February 26th elections. SMCP hopes that the Governor will uphold the constitution this time and not bow to political pressure to postpone or cancell the elections.

According to the normal election cycle, elections would have been held in 2020. However, thanks to former Prime Minister, William Marlin and Governor Eugene Holiday, the people of Sint Maarten are once again required to go to the polls prematurely. The decision to invoke article 59 was seemingly Marlin’s attempt to strike back at the parliament that had given him and the majority of his cabinet a vote of non-confidence. In other words, parliament was penalized for doing its job which is to give oversight, monitor and control the government. It should be that if Parliament is of the opinion that the government is not doing a good job then Parliament has all rights to send the government home by way of a vote of non-confidence.

Even though there are suggestions to remove article 59 from the constitution, SMCP is of the opinion that this article has its place in our constitutional system of checks and balances. Article 59 was included in the constitution in case parliament failed to execute its duties. For example, if Parliament does not call meetings, does not review and pass laws submitted by the government and as a result the functioning of government is grossly stagnated or impeded, then government has the right, according to article 59, to dissolve parliament on behalf of the people and call for new elections. However, we, the people, do not expect government to abuse this right and use article 59 as an instrument for retaliation. Rather, it should be used as a last resort to ensure that the people get a proper functioning parliament.

Like it or not, the election process is in motion according to the constitution and any postponement or cancelation at this time would be a serious violation of our constitution. SMCP hopes that this time the Governor will not yield to any political pressure to postpone or cancel the upcoming elections on February 26th 2018.

Wycliffe Smith
Leader of the Sint Maarten Christian Party


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