Challenges in our Parliamentary System

There are significant differences between countries in the way in which the Legislative and the Executive Branches are elected and structured. There are three main groups of democratic systems.

• A Presidential system
• A Semi-Presidential system
• A Parliamentary system

The Presidential System
The separation between legislative and executive powers translates in some countries into separate elections for both branches. For example, in the United States not only Parliament is elected by the people but also the President. The President then has his/her own power base. He/she may select a Government which does not depend on a majority in the Parliament. The Government is led directly by the President. This means that the U.S. Government cannot be sent home by the Parliament. However, this Government requires a majority in the Parliament for important political decisions. The Government must therefore work with Parliament.

Semi-Presidential System
A Semi-Presidential System is a mixture of both of the above systems. The Executive Branch consists not only of a President elected by the people, but also includes a Prime Minister, whose Government depends on a majority in the Parliament. If the President and Prime Minister are of the same political party, they can cooperate in legislation and in the implementation of policies. But it can also happen that they are members of different parties and they are rivals of each other. The power of the President is, in such a case, weaker than that of the Prime Minister. An example of a semi-presidential system is France.

Parliamentary System
In a Parliamentary System elections are held to elect the members of Parliament. Parliament is therefore described as the government “of the people, by the people and for the people”. Based on the result of the election the Government or Council of Ministers, is formed; this requires the support of a majority in Parliament. Sometimes one party has acquired sufficient seats to form a majority, sometimes different parties have to work together to form a majority; this is referred to as a “coalition.” In a Parliamentary System the Government or Cabinet must have the confidence of the majority in Parliament. That majority in Parliament can send home one or more Ministers or even the entire Council of Ministers. Subsequently, in accordance with article 33 sub 2 of our Constitution, the minister or ministers must make his/her/their position available. The Council of Ministers in turn can dissolve Parliament. This dissolution of Parliament must according to article 59 of our Constitution take place by national decree, which must specify that new elections will be held.

Electoral System
The result of the election, the assignment of the seats, depends on the electoral system that is applied in the country, (see our subsequent article on the Electoral System).

The Preamble of our Constitution (“Staatsregeling AB 2010 GT 1”) is stated We the people of Sint Maarten declare that we are a people who believe in the principle of democracy, the rule of law, the principle of the segregation of powers, the dignity and value of the individual, the entitlement of all persons to the fundamental rights and freedoms.

Sint Maarten has a Parliamentary System in which the members of Parliament are elected, in accordance with article 47 sub 1 of the Constitution, by proportional representation (this means an electoral system in which parties gain seats in proportion to the number of votes they received). Article 47 sub 1 states: The members of Parliament shall be elected by proportional representation within the limits to be laid down in a national ordinance.” This national ordinance is the Election Ordinance (“Kiesverordening AB 2010 no.10”).


Challenges in our Parliamentary System
1. The phenomenon of “ship jumping”: when a member (or members) of the majority in Parliament declares him/or herself an independent and crosses over to the opposition and breaks the coalition in Parliament, which results in new or interim government to be formed. The government may also decide to dissolve Parliament and call for new elections. This has so far destabilized the government to the point that the duration of the Parliamentary period has been diminished to one or two years.
2. Some procedures are in contravention of the Trias Politica doctrine:
–The Executive Branch or the Council of Ministers is proposed by the majority in Parliament during a coalition meeting (note: this system of proposal of ministers is not regulated in the Constitution, nor in the Election Ordnance, but is the result “unwritten law” of the Parliamentary System). Hence the Executive Branch is not really separated from the Legislative
–Both the Legislative Branch and the Executive Branch have legislative powers (“Wetgevende Macht”). In general the Executive Branch can establish general resolutions (“besluiten houdende algemene maatregelen”), which are also laws. Also
Government prepares and submits draft ordinances to Parliament for approval. Parliament can also take the initiative to draft new laws.
3. As a result of the close involvement of Parliament in the selection of the ministers, the control role of Parliament over the Council of Ministers can be compromised as a result of party loyalty.
4. The regular governing period of the Executive Branch is influenced by the majority in Parliament; the stability of the coalition in Parliament.
5. The frequency and manner in which article 33 sub 2 of the Constitution, the motion of no confidence, is applied by Parliament, and subsequently the implementation of article 59 of the Constitution to dissolve Parliament by the Council of Ministers, results in unstable government.
6. The lack of or limited legal support for the members of Parliament
This affects the level of debate in Parliament as well as the number of initiative laws presented by the members of Parliament.


What are possible solutions to these challenges?
Electoral reform: review our electoral system, specifically the process of the formation of government/appointment of ministers.
a) Election of the Council of Ministers instead of by appointment.
b) Election of a Prime Minister who is responsible for the formation of his cabinet of ministers. The election of the members of Parliament, Prime Minister or ministers can be done simultaneously to avoid additional financial burden on the coffers of government.
c) In accordance with article 33 sub 2 of the Constitution, regulate the circumstances when Parliament can decide that a minister no longer has its confidence; the period of time during which the minister must resign; what happens when a minister decides not to resign, etc.