PHILIPSBURG, Sint Maarten — Voters in today’s election say they are deciding to hold their leaders accountable by going to the polls. More than 20,000 people could cast the vote in Monday’s parliamentary election, the second in two years.
For resident Jefferson George, voting today meant exercising his right and guaranteeing himself a say in how the island is run.
“Now that I vote I can have a say, I can complain. If I didn’t vote, I would just have to accept what they give,” George told 721news.com.
He was among the trickle of voters trooping into the Raoul Illidge Sports Complex in Cay Hill after 1:00pm. About 20 people cast ballots there within 45 minutes. Cay Hill housed one of nearly two dozen polling stations, including the John Larmonie Center in Philipsburg, the Charles Leopold Bell School in Cole Bay and the Pointe Blanche House of Detention.
George admitted he had considered abstaining from the vote. He said he felt himself growing frustrated with the constant swapping of governments.
“To be honest, I am one of those who was choosing not to vote…the same ones crying for change are the same ones begging you for your vote, so they can do the same nonsense again,” George said, explaining the cynicism that seemed to pervade much of this election season.
“It’s still my civic rights to do so, then I don’t have a say if I didn’t do so.”
In the last six years, St. Maarten had seated and unseated three different prime ministers – one leading multiple cabinets of ministers. Each time, parliamentarians switched allegiances – a practice denounced locally as “ship-jumping”- a new government was formed. So far, more than 15 people on the island have held the job of minister on St. Maarten.
This election cycle saw a daunting 126 candidates, spread across nine political parties, vying for a place in the 15-seat parliament. The political establishment – led by the long-standing National Alliance (NA) and Democratic Party (DP) – met challenges from upstarts United St. Maarten Party (US) and United People’s Party (UP) (whose leaders had both formerly been number two candidates of DP and NA).
Former parliamentarian Gracita Arrindell resurrected her People’s Progressive Alliance (PPA) and annexed Jeffrey Richardson’s Concordia Political Alliance (CPA). A series of new parties, including St. Maarten Christian Party (SMCP) and Helping Our People Excel (HOPE), rose to challenge the dominance of the big three.
Local political veterans faced off against newcomers for the growing voter base on the island. Rapture Richardson said she picked a younger candidate who projected certainty as someone who could help lead St. Maarten onto greater progress. “The candidate I decided to trust, he said a lot of meaningful stuff at the meetings, and I feel confident,” she said, smiling. “We really need a younger person.”
Some people talked to 721news, but asked not to have the conversation recorded. One voter questioned the validity of some candidates’ citizenship, saying their national origin disqualified them as legitimate choices. No law prevents a Dutch national born elsewhere from being elected here.
“You think I could go to India and get elected? What about Dominica?” the woman asked, giving voice to the long-standing complaint of the shifting ethnographic landscape of St. Maarten.
A man speaking heavily accented English complained, as he left a polling station in Cole Bay, about what he called the biggest problem of St. Maarten government: shifting political alliances that handicap the government’s ability to work. “Too many coalitions,” he said.
721news.com didn’t ask voters who they picked or the parties they supported. Instead, this website wanted to know what voting meant to residents.
Attorney Richard Gibson Jr. praised the voters’ right to choose whomever they felt had done the work in the island’s interest.
“It’s important for people to go out and exercise their right to vote. As it’s been said many times, people have fought and died for the right to vote,” he said, urging the community to pick people they best thought represented progress on the island.
“I think for the individuals of the general public, the possibility they have to hold their elected officials accountable is at the ballot box,” Gibson Jr. said. “So the politicians and those who are in government and in parliament, they will have to prove themselves for the next election cycle.”
The polls will remain open until 8:00pm. tonight. Election results should be ready by midnight.