On November 3rd 2017, His Excellency Governor Eugene Holiday signed the national decree declaring that early elections would take place on January 8th, 2018. This was a very rash decision, seeing that the decree was signed within 24 hours, without taking into consideration the current situation that exists in the country following hurricane Irma. Hundreds of families are roofless, homeless, jobless and displaced. People on the island are still in survival mode and election is the last thing on their minds. Moreover, the institutions used to facilitate elections, such as the Electoral Council, the Central Voting Bureau and the Post Office are all severely damaged.
The decision by the Governor to enforce snap elections shows that he is not sensitive to the needs of the people, nor is he aware that the entities involved in handling the elections are non-functional at this time. Likewise Prime Minister, William Marlin who, due to his daily interaction with the people, should have been even more aware of the suffering of the people and of the severe damage that the various election offices had endured.
This is Prime Minister Marlin’s third stint dealing with Parliamentary dissolutions. In May 2013, Marlin, then as Acting Prime Minister, submitted a draft national decree to the Governor to dissolve Parliament. This was done while Marlin was deputizing for then Prime Minister, Mrs. Sarah Wescot-Williams. The draft decree was co-signed by Ministers Silveria Jacobs, Roland Tuitt and Romeo Pantophlet and resulted in the famous “Mexican Standoff”. Fortunately, the Governor was able to circumvent the dissolution of Parliament at that time.
In 2015, William Marlin, as parliamentarian, was completely opposed to the dissolution of Parliament prompted by the government of Prime Minister Marcel Gumbs. In the public meeting of Parliament held on October 28th 2015, MP William Marlin stated that “the government should not have invoked article 59 because of the motion of no confidence. This is a gross violation; it is unacceptable.” Quoting Ing. Ralph Richardson, former Lt. Governor and constitutional expert, MP Marlin said “Richardson says that article 59 is not there for the government to strike back at the parliament”.
On November 2nd 2017, just two years later, Prime Minister William Marlin ate his own words and in a vindictive move struck back at parliament by submitting a national decree to the Governor for the dissolution of Parliament.
In 2013, most likely after seeking expert advice, the Governor was able to resolve the conflict. In 2015 the Governor sought advice from three legal minds commonly called the “three wise men”. Unfortunately, as he was unable to quell this conflict, he signed the decree calling for early elections in February 2016. Subsequently, this decree had to be amended due to a faulty date. Then apparently, because of political pressure, the Governor issued a new decree on December 15th 2015, thereby postponing the elections by six months and consequently violating the constitution. Furthermore, article 59 states that after the dissolution of Parliament, the newly elected Parliament must meet within three months. The Governor blatantly violated the constitution by postponing the elections by nine months. Lisa Alexander ought to be commended for calling the Governor out and presenting this constitutional violation to the Constitutional Court. Unfortunately, her case was considered inadmissible due to the fact that it was presented to the wrong court.
On November 2nd last, Governor Holiday, for the third time during his tenure, was presented with a decree to dissolve Parliament. It beats me that he signed off on such a serious decision within 24 hours. Apparently, he did not consult with the persons involved in the election process, like attorney Jason Rogers, Chairman of the Central Voting Bureau, attorney Bert Hoffman, Chairman of the Electoral Council or Stuart Johnson, Chairman of the Supervisor Board of Post Services St. Maarten. According to article 21 of the Governor’s Regulation he did not have to sign the dissolution decree but could have submitted it to the King for annulment. Could it be that political pressure once again precipitated such a fast move on the part of the Governor?
Now that the Governor has signed and published the decree based on article 59 of the Constitution he cannot pull back his decision. An annulment at this time would be in violation of the three months scheduled between the dissolution of the previous parliament and the first meeting of the newly elected parliament. Any period beyond the three months would also be in violation of the constitution. The Governor cannot single handedly change the constitutionally specified term mentioned in article 59. A proposal for a constitutional alteration must be endorsed by at least two thirds of parliament and cannot be ratified until the views of the Kingdom government have been obtained.
In 2015, the Governor unlawfully extended the election date in order to give the Marlin Cabinet sufficient time to deal with ship jumping and electoral reform. However, nothing was done about these two issues. Electoral reform would have ensured that, in the case of snap elections, the Census Office would have had enough time to update the voters’ registry and new parties would have had sufficient time to register for the upcoming election. However, because the postulation date has been set for November 13th 2017, this bars new political parties from registering, which is a violation of the democratic right of the people.
In summary, the electoral process for snap elections has been initiated based on article 59 of the constitution and the Governor is not allowed to change the constitutionally specified term singlehandedly. As the representative of the King he is duty-bound to uphold and protect the constitution of Sint Maarten.
Leader of the Sint Maarten Christian Party