Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs and members of her team in Parliament on Thursday.
~ PM updates MPs on electoral reform ~
PHILIPSBURG--The Council of Ministers (COM) has approved the removal of the curtains from voting booths in an effort to curtail corrupt voting practices.
Prime Minister (PM) Silveria Jacobs provided the information while updating Parliament on the electoral reform trajectory in a meeting of the Central Committee on Thursday.
“This week in the Council of Ministers, we were able to amend the “kiesbesluit” [electoral decision –Ed.] in an attempt to mitigate possible corrupt voting practices by actually approving the removal of the curtains from the voting booths,” Jacobs told MPs.
“This trajectory has to, of course, [be] finalised with signatures being sent on to the governor by LB Ham,” she said, adding that this was one of the smaller, quicker things that could be done. “We are happy that we were able to move this forward seeing that this was also mentioned here as well as on the floor of Parliament.”
Government also approved a piece of legislation which addresses the remuneration of members of the Main Voting Bureau. “This has also been for a long time on hold and has actually negatively impacted their ability to do their due diligence when requested to do so.”
The way forward
Jacobs said one of the pieces of legislation that is nowhere near completion is one to regulate the dates in the event of a snap election. “Every election is regulated the same way to eliminate the possibility that anyone would be negatively impacted from taking part in said elections. That amendment carried with it several other amendments that would be more constitutional in nature and is being reviewed at the moment by a legislative lawyer and once we have a better idea as to what is still possible with that I would then inform the Parliament and public at large, but at this point, it is not at a stage where we could say it is possible to be completed within a short period of time,” Jacobs explained.
She said the community still has questions as to what can be done as it relates to electoral reform. Moving forward, government would still like to address some of the sentiments expressed by the public via a survey government had executed.
“Those points are still points that we would want to address moving forward… So far, I must say the majority would require huge legislative changes that would have to go through the full amendment process, some even touching on the constitution as well,” she explained.
In giving an insight into the findings of the survey, Jacobs said many persons believe that there is a lack of accountability from elected officials and believe that “the Lynch Law” should be eliminated. The Lynch Law, named after the late Edgar Lynch, was introduced in 1999, and is an article in the electoral law that determines which candidate gets elected.
The public also believes that more should be done to combat vote buying. In an effort to combat these issues, Jacobs said her team along with some key departments will identify items that could be tackled in the short and long term. The Prime Minister also spoke about improving measures to eradicate any alleged corrupt practices. The removal of the curtains is one, but there are several rules and regulations that are governed by lower legislation that would be looked at. “So, strengthening those measures to ensure that we can have a transparent process, but one that eliminates as much as possible the possibility for corrupt practices. Also increasing more vigilance at the voting station.”
Jacobs said she would love to hear the take of MPs about eliminating dummy ballots which have been used in the past and ended up in the actual counting of ballots. “So, possibly eliminating those and just having the possibility for the parties to use a large document to educate voters and we as government, as we go along with this electoral reform educational campaign,” she said adding that this would go hand in hand with ensuring that voters are well educated as to what a valid vote would be. “We feel that education is also part of the trajectory moving forward ensuring that our population is well aware of the validity of their vote and strength of their vote and how to ensure that it counts.”
She continued: “Another aspect that is already legislated, but not possible for this year... is the possibility for electronic voting. That is already legislated. However, there would be a serious investment that would need to be made, training etc. So, that is maybe something more for the longer term. Another discussion that came up was the current one percent needed to be able to sign up a list. I think to also… to ensure that we have… a good counting of the population, the possibility to increase what you would need to be able to present your list as a list to be voted upon. Currently it’s one per cent. I think it would be an interesting discussion whether increasing that number could make it less watered down maybe and ensure that parties who are postulating themselves actually can get the support needed to represent the populace.”
Another issue that came up particularly from students in diaspora is their ability to vote in the St. Maarten elections. “We would like to explore that possibility especially when we are talking about our students, especially, but not exclusively because they are the ones that we are exporting to grow in their knowledge and awareness and we’re seeing too with social media, many are still very much involved. They have a lot to say they have a lot they want to contribute and mainly because I believe they want to come back and I think if they have more of a say they would be even more willing to come back – that’s my personal opinion based on the discussions I’ve had with many of them over the years,” noted Jacobs.
“I think also citizens at large, wherever in the diaspora, should be able to vote. So really looking at moving towards electronic voting. All of those progressive moves, I think that as a growing country we could look at to be able to increase the participation within our electoral system to ensure that we are representing the people who love and care about St. Maarten in that process.”
The drafting of legislation in the English language is another issue raised by the PM. Following Jacobs’ presentation, a number of MPs weighed in on the topic and made a number of suggestions.