One SXM Association representatives in Parliament on Tuesday (from left) Nelly Blaise, Dr. Rhoda Arrindell and Alston Lourens.
PHILIPSBURG--One SXM Association on Tuesday called on the legislature to hold a consultative referendum with the sole question: Independence for St. Maarten: Yes or No?
One SXM submitted a draft resolution to this effect. The resolution calls for a consultative referendum within two years, or latest by the next general election. The association Implored Parliament to make use of its constitutional authority to convene the referendum.
Making the presentation in a meeting of Parliament’s Ad Hoc Committee for Electoral Reform were Dr. Rhoda Arrindell, Alston Lourens and Nelly Blaise. Theophilus Thompson was also present.
According to Arrindell, One SXM Association grew out of meetings with a number of individuals, groups, and organisations, and eventually it was decided to create a more structured way to engage as a people on topics related to St. Maarten’s cultural values, unity and eventual independence.
She made clear that One SXM Association was not a political organisation and was not the first organisation to call for a new consultation with the people on the matter of a referendum. Independence for St. Martin Foundation appeared before Parliament in May 2016 with the same plea and wrote a petition on advice of some members of parliament (MPs) at the time.
The proposed resolution read by Arrindell during the meeting states: “Considering that the last referendum for St. Maarten was held in 2000, and that a new generation of St. Maarteners has not had a say about the island’s constitutional future; considering that a child born in 2000 could have voted in the last parliamentary election; considering that the hallmark of any democratic process is for the people to be consulted on matters of public interest; considering that Article 92 of the Constitution says that consultative referendums are conducted at the initiative of Parliament; considering that St. Maarten has exhausted all other viable statuses in previous referenda and considering that the only other question to be put to the people is whether they want independence or not; the Parliament of St. Maarten resolves to convene a consultative referendum on the matter of political independence for St. Maarten.
“Parliament further resolves that the referendum shall have one question: Yes or No to independence for St. Maarten. The referendum shall be convened within the current parliamentary term or at the latest simultaneously with the next parliamentary election.”
Arrindell said Aruba had carried out a similar referendum with the same question in 1977, so there was a legal precedent for St. Maarten.
For the most part, the MPs present were in agreement that the people should be consulted.
National Alliance (NA) MP George Pantophlet believes independence is the way to go. He said the issue tabled was Parliament preparing a national ordinance and letting the people determine whether they want to become independent or not.
Both United Democrats (UD) MP Sarah Wescot-Williams and Party for Progress (PFP) MP Raeyhon Peterson recognised Parliament’s competence to call a referendum.
Wescot-Williams wanted to know government’s position on the country’s constitutional future. She said the positions taken thus far are very ambiguous and the governing coalition cannot present a straight story on decolonisation or what its position is on the country’s current status, the latest discord on the amended UN petition being a case in point.
She said while One SXM Association has a clear request, before Parliament entertains such a proposal, a stance needs to be taken and presented to the populace. She wanted to know whether the governing majority is willing to give its position on independence and put that to the population and whether they are willing to put to the people the unilateral decision to again pursue a UN trajectory.
Peterson said a referendum can be called in the case of national ordinance and in the case of a decision by government or Parliament, and with a discussion ongoing over a matter of great social interest. He said the constitution speaks of when it favours Parliament to call a referendum and, ironically, says that it is wise to call a referendum, when there are elections.
“That’s the intention of the law, for Parliament to act terughoudend in the ability given to them by law. For us to not play politics with it, play with the people’s emotions. Because it is the intention of the law that government takes the lead on the discussion,” Peterson said.
He said the best referendum that can be called currently is one that concerns the current decision of Parliament to go to the UN and government’s clear grievances against this international initiative. “That’s the purpose of the law, not to bring the people to an ultimatum based on emotional ideology that may have heart, but is not realistic at the moment,” Peterson said.
PFP MP Melissa Gumbs said she had no issue with a consultative referendum and suggested that students abroad should also be included.
United People’s (UP) party MP Rolando Brison asked five key questions. Lourens directed him to the Independence Foundation’s Facebook page, where the answers to those questions were included in the Frequently Asked Questions section. Brison said further that a consultative referendum is the highest form of democracy.
National Alliance (NA) MP Solange Duncan said that everyone could agree that the island’s autonomy had been trampled on and that it is a “very serious” time in St. Maarten’s history. She lauded that the conversation is now at Parliament for the proposal to be handed.
Blaise mentioned the importance of youth empowerment and involvement in the future of the island, adding that “a consultative referendum given to the people is a democratic process and should be coupled with a mechanism of public discourse.”
Arrindell added a quote from the Nations Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, that “inadequacy of political, economic, social or educational preparedness should never serve as a pretext for delaying independence” and that One SXM Association was looking forward to doing its part in helping to achieve independence once the people had voted for independence.