PHILIPSBURG, St. Maarten - Prior to the election on September 26, 2016, two expressions dominated politics and the news, namely “ship-jumping” and “electoral reform”. Electoral reform was the reason for the fall of the Marcel Gumbs Government in 2015. Electoral reform led to the snap election that was scheduled for February 9, 2016. Electoral reform was also the reason why this election was cancelled, because the honorable Prime Minister William Marlin insisted that his government needed more time to be able to initiate legislative reform in order to address the phenomenon of ship-jumping that was so prevalent among our parliamentarians. Finally, electoral reform was the reason, in my opinion, why his Excellency, Governor Holiday, collaborated with Prime Minster Marlin to shift the election date from February 9, 2016 to September 26, 2016.
According to article 59 of the constitution, elections must take place within three months following the dissolution of Parliament. In my opinion and many others share this view, the Governor could have amended the dates in the original national decree so as to have them comply with the election ordinance. We must bear in mind that rescheduling the election date to September 26, 2016 came with a promise, made to the people of Sint Maarten, that prior to Election Day, legislation would be in place by which ship-jumping would be eliminated or at least curtailed to some extent!
But was Prime Minister Marlin really serious about electoral reform or did he underestimate the herculean task of getting a speedy approval, from the all the partners of kingdom for a constitutional legislative amendment, within a period of nine months? Note that when the Prime Minister was a Member of Parliament in 2012 he told the radio host of ‘People’s Voice’ that, “the time is too short to put something in place before the next elections in 2014. In other words, two years were too short a period to implement electoral reform. But in December 2015, when asked if nine months were not too short to get electoral reform passed by parliament his response was “the time period will indeed be short, but electoral reform can be completed in time for the elections … I am convinced that it can be done.”
Even though an Electoral Reform Commission was established and attempts were made to prepare the necessary legislation, Prime Minister Marlin was unable to live up his promise to eliminate or curtail ship-jumping by election day. However, one would have thought that the new government would have continued pursuing electoral reform so that by the time the next election comes, around in 2020, the desirable electoral changes would be in place.
To my great surprise, the Governing Program ‘Stability for Prosperity’, issued by the Red/White/Blue Alliance, has very little to say about electoral reform. On page 30, under ‘Upgrade Government Operations’ we it reads “initialize the process to enable students abroad to vote and legislate voting day procedure.” Not one word is said about eliminating or curbing ship-jumping. Am I confused? But wasn’t it so that the whole reason for the Governor, rescheduling the election to September 26th, was to give the Prime Minister more time to enable him to come up with legislation to tackle ship-jumping? Since the Prime Minister was not successful in getting the legislation passed prior to the election, shouldn’t we expect that the current coalition government would continue to work on getting the laws passed during their term of office? Unfortunately, the matter of electoral reform, specifically dealing with ship-jumping, has been totally ignored in the Governing Program and instead, has been replaced by trying to make it possible for students abroad to vote. This is a slap in the face of the people who went to the poles expecting that something would be done to eliminate or curtail ship-jumping. Ignoring the wishes of the people and failing to keep this campaign promise is terribly disrespectful and unethical.
Now, that the United Democratic Alliance has three years until the next election, in 2020, one would expect the Red/White/Blue Coalition to come up with comprehensive electoral reform that would include among other things: restrictions regarding ship-jumping, expanding voter eligibility to students and others abroad, amendments to the election ordinance such as full disclosure of all functions, amendments to the national ordinance registration and finances of political parties, amendments to the Rules of Order of Parliament, campaign reform to allow for a more equal playing field for parties during the campaign and voting day procedures.
Because the Kingdom government posed critical questions regarding the ship-jumping draft ordinance, it does not mean that Sint Maarten should drop this issue all together. We know what ship-jumping has done to our country during the last six years. We have experienced the political instability that comes with it and the stigma that it carries. We have also experienced the financial burden that it brings. Therefore, it is important that the Government take those critical questions and use them to develop sound legislation to curtail ship-jumping. Why not look at Julio Romney’s draft ordinance? It might help us take a fresh approach to electoral reform. Let us not wait until another wave of ship-jumpers is upon us.