Knowledge is understanding – with the swearing in of the Council of Ministers on June 25, 2018, the ruling United Democrats/Sint Maarten Christian Party (UD/SMCP) coalition government found itself in a political dilemma with not having enough sitting MP’s in the Parliament to govern.
The 8 to 7 ruling coalition government resigned 2 of its sitting members of parliament and had them sworn in as ministers, leaving the coalition with a 6 to 7 minority support in the Parliament. Consequently, there were not enough MP’s to form a quorum to convene Parliament in order to review the credentials and approve and/ or appoint replacement parliamentarians.
Luckily, a degree of political sensitivity was displayed in our polity neutralizing the political dilemma as 1 of the 2 minority parties (the National Alliance) in Parliament afforded the governing coalition the necessary support/ attendance to form a quorum, review the credentials and approve and/ appoint the 2 replacement MP’s.
The problem of an inability to allow MP’s to transform to Ministers while simultaneously ensuring the maintenance of power in Parliament is an institutional one. Hence, it is a structural rather than a constitutional crisis. New laws cannot resolve the problem.
The problem that emerged was not based on any (narrow) interpretation of the Constitution or law but a political dilemma where ensuring and maintaining the balance of power in Parliament was not explicitly and adequately (strategic politically) handled.
In politics we have to be mindful that political dilemmas come with consequences which in this case could have very well been a vote of no confidence in the UD/SMCP (1 week old) coalition government. Without the unusual political sensitivity shown by the opposition bench in Parliament, the likelihood of new elections would not have been neutralized.
Talks that the political dilemma could have been avoided with a larger majority in Parliament is pointless. Having a large majority in parliament does not necessarily safeguard any government from political dilemmas that could result in finding themselves in a minority support position (in parliament). Granted, a larger majority in government/ parliament is always better which for the most part allows the governing party to better execute its governing program, pass legislation and withstand a vote of non-confidence.
Furthermore, as for the report that the Parliamentarians should turn to the courts to have or ensure that their credentials are reviewed, (thus allowing them to sit in Parliament) is problematic. It not only raises question of “separation of powers” but also the infringement of the judicial branch of government on the authority/ duties and responsibilities of the legislative branch.
It is the task of the courts to handle and resolve disputes. However, there were no disputes as to whether or not the credentials of the replacement parliamentarian would be reviewed – it was a political, procedural problem of the governing coalition not having enough sitting MP’s in the Parliament to form a quorum to convene Parliament, to review the credentials and approve and/ appoint their two replacement MP’S.
Alternatively, the ruling coalition Government could have been more politically conscious of the potential dilemma and first secure their balance of power (in Parliament). That is, not waiting until the eleventh hour where there would be a conflict of a minister simultaneously being a parliamentarian; in this case proceeding with the swearing in 5 of the 7 ministers. As such maintaining the balance of power in Parliament and reviewing the credentials and approving the replacement parliamentarians would have been possible followed by the resignation of the parliamentarian that would be replaced and swearing in them as ministers. Political crises averted.