The Constitution stipulates that the term of the Parliament is 4 years, however article 59 also provides that the Council of Ministers (the Cabinet) can make use of its right of dissolution and dissolve the Parliament before the end of the 4-year term. The Cabinet’s right to dissolve the Parliament is considered by some scholars as the counterbalance to the no-confidence rule; it is seen as an instrument for the Cabinet to discourage the Parliament from abusing its right to pass a vote of no-confidence against the Cabinet.
The Trias Politica encourages separation of powers and responsibilities among the three organizations of the State: the legislative, executive and judicial branch. The intent is to prevent the concentration of powers and to provide for checks and balances. Sint Maarten’s parliamentary system consisting of the Parliament (the legislative branch) and the Cabinet (the executive branch) is derived from the Netherlands Antilles system which was inherited from the Dutch system. The people elect the members of Parliament; the majority formed in Parliament supports the members of the Council of Ministers who are appointed by a national decree. The Cabinet develops government policy, establishes laws together with the Parliament and executes them. The Parliament (the elected representative of the people), is charged with supervising the work of the Cabinet.
The relationship between the Parliament and the Government Cabinet is characterized by mutual dependency and control, via checks and balances to promote accountability. In order to carry out its checks and balances, the Parliament has instruments at its disposal, among others the right of inquiry (vragenrecht), the right of interpellation, the right of enquête, the budget right and as ultimate sanction on ministerial responsibility can pass a vote of no confidence (article 33 of the Constitution) against a Minister or the entire Cabinet of Ministers (the no-confidence rule). The right of inquiry is the right of Parliament members to call a Minister to give account and ask him questions. These questions may be orally or in writing. The right of interpellation is the right of Parliament members to, in Parliament, ask Ministers for information on a topic that is not on the agenda for that particular day. The right of enquête is Parliament’s right to, without involvement of the Cabinet, conduct an investigation itself into a specific issue and thereby hear witnesses under oath. In that regard, the Parliament does its own research, for which it installs a Committee. The reason for the enquête may lie in an unsatisfactory interpellation or answering of questions by the Minister. This is a very heavy measure. The Budget right is the Parliament’s right to assess the income and expenditure in the draft Budget and then to reject or approve it. The no-confidence rule means that if the majority in Parliament no longer has confidence in a Minister or the entire Cabinet, the Minister or the entire Cabinet should draw their conclusions and step down; if the Parliament makes a clear statement to that effect, for example in a vote of no-confidence, the Minister or the Cabinet must resign.
The Cabinet on the other hand has the right to dissolve Parliament, which is the right to terminate the four-year term of the Parliament prematurely, resulting in early elections, before the usual four years (article 59 of the Constitution).
The right to dissolve Parliament developed during the Middle Ages in British and French constitutional law, mainly as a tool to solve crisis between the Cabinet and the Parliament. In the event of a conflict between the Parliament and the Cabinet, the Cabinet headed by the Monarch would dissolve the Parliament. The matter was then put before the people for their opinion via an election. Over the years dissolution of the Parliament nevertheless developed into a tool to mainly seek early elections. The cause of this shift is among others the emergence of proportional representation (that is an electoral system in which parties gain seats in proportion to the number of votes cast for each party). Proportional representation gave rise to more parties gaining seats in an election and Cabinets being formed through political parties having to work together in a coalition to form a majority in Parliament. As a result of coalition governments, conflict between the Parliament and the Cabinet nowadays is mainly caused by disagreement between the coalition partners and sometimes also within the Cabinet itself. In addition, the relationships within the parties forming the coalition can be irreparably damaged because Ministers and members of Parliament of the same party no longer agree with each other.
According to traditional unwritten constitutional law, the Cabinet’s right to dissolve the Parliament should only be used in exceptional cases and never more than once for the same conflict. Literature mentions the following as grounds that can lead to a decision to dissolve the Parliament: an unbridgeable disagreement between Parliament and Cabinet, circumstances in which it is desirable that the voters are immediately given the opportunity to voice their opinion, in all situations in which an impasse needs to be broken, and in cases when a new start must be made possible via elections.
Apart from the right of the Cabinet to dissolve the Parliament, note that it is also possible for the Parliament to be dissolved through consultation between the Cabinet and the Parliament and even at the explicit request of the Parliament. The final decision however lies with the Cabinet, because the Parliament cannot dissolve itself.
According to article 59 of our Constitution the decree to dissolve the Parliament brings with it the obligation to hold new elections for a new Parliament as well as the obligation for the newly elected Parliament to meet within 90 days of the date of the decree to dissolve the Parliament. The dissolution takes effect on the day the newly elected Parliament meets.
Some scholars are of the opinion that for a dissolved Parliament, working with a Demissionary Cabinet/Outgoing Cabinet can present some constitutional complications. An important problem for example is the relative lack of effect of instruments that the Cabinet and the Parliament have in their collaboration. In particular the vote of no-confidence rule has little significance in the case of an already “Demissionair” Cabinet, as the Cabinet cannot threaten to resign because it has already submitted its resignation. On the other hand, the Parliament can no longer dismiss the “Demissionair” Cabinet as it was previously dismissed.
• Should it in your opinion be possible to pass a vote of no-confidence against an outgoing Cabinet that has already tendered its resignation.
• What is your opinion of the Cabinet being able to dissolve the Parliament as a way to keep the Parliament in check, when the Cabinet fears it will be called to order via a vote of no-confidence?
• What is your opinion of the Parliament being able to pass a vote of no confidence in a Cabinet without solid grounds?
• Based on which grounds do you think the Parliament should be allowed to make use of the no-confidence rule?
• Which grounds do you think should be the basis for the Cabinet to make use of the right to dissolve Parliament?