St. Maarten – The attitude of party leaders is the main reason for ship jumping, United People’s party MP Johan Leonard said yesterday morning in an unexpected sharp attack on UP-leader Theo Heyliger. “The leaders are blatantly disrespecting their members,” Leonard said. “They think they have more rights and they did not even ask my opinion about the appointment of ministers.”
Leonard’s statement came during a meeting of parliament that discussed a proposal by political scientist Julio Romney to amend the electoral law. Basically, Romney suggests the introduction of the d’Hondt system for the distribution of seats after elections and a ban on ship-jumping.
“I have no problem with ship-jumpers, “Leonard said. “This is not going to change. The system put me here with my measly 200 votes.”
Leonard repeated that the cause of ship-jumping lies with the party leaders, without naming his own party leader by name. “They think they own the party, but after the elections we all have the same rights. My leader may win 3,000 votes, but he cannot sit on three seats.”
Independent MP Leona Marlin-Romeo, describing herself as “the number one ship jumper” asked Romney for an exact definition of the term. “Is crossing the floor before a government is formed ship-jumping or is it only ship-jumping after a government has been formed?” she asked. “Many people like to spin things and many people are confused.”
Marlin-Romeo said that ship-jumping had not caused a delay in the formation of a government last year. “But when you destabilize a government then something has to be done about ship-jumping,” she added.
Independent MP Cornelius de Weever – another post-election ship-jumper tore into the policies of the new minister of Public Health, Social Development and Labor, Emil Lee, among others by referring to his stance on making the labor market more flexible and getting away from the counterpart policy. “”That’s hire and fire and it will lead to mass lay-offs,” De Weever said.
Parliament President Sarah Wescot-Williams interrupted MP De Weever twice to ask him to limit his address to questions for Romney and to save his other concerns for the proper platform. After the second interruption, De Weever grumbled that he rested his case, without the customary thank you to the chair, but not before making his position clear: “It appears that any change requires a two-third majority and the current majority does not have it.”
UP-MP Theo Heyliger kept it business-like. “When the votes come in after an election, the parties disappear,” he noted. “How will the parties function? Through their boards, or through their party leader?”
Heyliger said that there is “never any discussion” when someone leaves a party. “They pick up their seat and they are gone.”
Dr. Lloyd Richardson (UP) most likely nailed it with his question about the likelihood of electoral change to materialize. “I don’t see this happening in the near future and certainly not while I am sitting here,” he said.
Richardson said that help is needed “to restructure and monitor the proceedings and how parties conduct their business.” He referred to the composition of the list of candidates and to covenants party members sign. “That goes out of the window just like that.”
Frans Richardson (United St. Maarten party) did not give any indication of his position on electoral reform, but instead he queried Romney about conflicts he sees with the constitution. Richardson referred to article 61.3 that gives parliamentarians a free mandate, and article 49 that lists reasons why an MP could lose his seat.
“There is a lot of work to be done. If the parliament would adopt your proposal we’ll face a lot of constitutional changes. However, I do believe that your proposal gives us light that changes must be made. But we need more discussions about this.”
UP faction leader Franklin Meyers seems in favor of electoral changes. “You propose something to right what is wrong with our system,” he said. “Our system shows instability. The Central Bank has indicated that our economy has contracted. There has clearly been an effect on investments. I believe that the system should be changed, even though there are MPs and other who think it is fine.”
Meyers referred to the opinion of former Justice Minister Roland Duncan who once said that “the system is fine, but the politicians are broken.”
“Nothing will be foolproof,” Meyers observed. “The proposal should be to totally eliminate ship jumping. On the French side you can declare yourself independent but it does not affect the government. Here, governments fall because of what’s-in-in-for me. If I don’t get a minister then I am upset. Let’s make changes as foolproof as possible. That will guarantee the people a government for four years. – and I don’t care which government that is.”
Meyers furthermore alluded to the constitution that says that after the dismissal of the parliament, a new parliament must be seated within three months. “Now I hear that they want to stave it off,” he said.
President Wescot-Williams adjourned the meeting to a later date to give Romney time to prepare his answers.