Long before the southern or Dutch part of St. Martin obtained an adjusted autonomous status as a territory of the Netherlands kingdom on October 10, 2010 (nicknamed “10-10-10”), politicians and others, both on the island and beyond, have used language that is inaccurate and often misleading to mask their own fears and shortcomings and create an obviously confusing narrative.
We cannot ascribe this to ignorance. To the contrary, I think many of them have a pretty good grasp of what the reality is but are not honest enough to admit it publicly and let the population know that the system was not designed to favor them, nor does it work for them.
The thinking is, were the people to really realize this, they would most probably opt to change the system.
It is against this background that I have randomly selected a few words and phrases that, as the school children would say, are “trending” in the political space, especially in the aftermath of a parliamentary election that has no absolute winners nor losers.
The idea is to show how these words are often (deliberately) misused, leading to a confusion and sometimes totally erroneous interpretation of the concepts they are meant to convey. Here we go:
There are no “citizens” of St. Martin!
When you fill immigration forms when you travel abroad you never write that you’re a “citizen” or national of St. Maarten but of The Netherlands. That is why you carry a passport showing your nationality to be Dutch.
By definition, a citizen is a “person who, by place of birth, nationality of one or both parents, or naturalization, is granted full rights and responsibilities as a member of a nation or political community.”
St. Martin is not a nation in the strictly political sense of the word. Citizenship is also defined as “the relationship between an individual and a state to which the individual owes allegiance and in turn is entitled to its protection. Citizenship implies the status of freedom with accompanying responsibilities.”
Citizenship is therefore the political status of an individual. St. Martin is a colony and not a state.
‘Country St. Maarten’
However you spell it, the southern part of St. Martin is not a country. It is an “autonomous” territory within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, which itself is a country. Obviously, you cannot have a “country” within a country.
So, it is very wrong to call St. Martin a “country” or to use the current phraseology favored by some officials and so-called political analysts or experts, “a sovereign constituent country within the kingdom”! Talk of confusion!
But this confusion is, I repeat, not a question of ignorance; it is a deliberate attempt to make the people think they do not need to seek political independence. The theory is, when the people are confused, they stay put; they reject change.
St. Martin is not a “democracy.” Again, it is a colony, and you cannot by definition have democracy in a colony. It is antithetical. Consequently, it is fundamentally wrong and misleading to talk of “our democracy.”
The fact that periodic elections are held does not qualify a territory or country to be called a democracy.
Elections which are carried out through a democratic process, i.e. conducted in an open, free, and fair manner with the participation of the people who have an inalienable right to vote, are necessary, and may even be a prerequisite for any democracy, but holding periodic elections is not sufficient to be considered a democracy.
In a democracy, the Trías Politica i.e., the separation of powers between the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government must be well established and well rooted.
Russia holds periodic elections. The 450 members of the State Duma of the Federal Assembly of Russia are elected every five years. Yet, is Russia a democracy?
So, instead of saying “our democracy,” we should more properly and correctly say, “our electoral system/process” or “our constitutional system/status.”
We – particularly those who believe in the independence of the island – need to constantly challenge anyone referring to St. Martin as a “democracy” until we change that erroneous narrative.
The path to independence requires that we make it clear that true democracy does not allow another authority to be imposed above the will of the people. It does not accept a CFT – the Board of Financial Supervision Curaçao and St. Maarten – to overrule, supersede or dictate decisions taken or to be taken by the representatives chosen by the people.
Similarly, it does not accept “higher supervision” by any authority not chosen by the people of St. Martin.
The “constitution” of the southern part of St. Martin does not recognize political “parties.” There are therefore no political “parties” in the territory.
There are political lists that are assigned a number, and a color on the ballot paper under a name they choose.
The electorate chooses 15 independent members of parliament to a term of four years. They do not vote to elect political “parties” to represent them but individuals who are required to vote their conscience.
Similarly, they do not vote to elect the executive (government; “ministers”). They vote for 15 individual members to represent them in parliament. That is why the whole territory is the constituency of each individual candidate.
We use this word incorrectly where it concerns individuals being placed on a political list to contest an election.
It could be because it sounds like a false cognate, a word that seems similar and may even have the same spelling in one language but that has a different meaning in another language.
“Postulate” in English usually means to advance a theory whose truth still needs to be tested. It is only in ecclesiastical law that the word means to nominate or elect someone to ecclesiastical office, like for example, a bishop.
Our elections have nothing to do with ecclesiastical laws. Therefore, rather than a candidate “postulating themselves” as candidates on political lists, the correct word to use is “nominate.” This is a transitive verb which requires an object. In other words, ordinarily, you cannot nominate yourself. But even that is more acceptable usage than to “postulate oneself.”
The day on which the lists of candidates are officially submitted should therefore be called correctly “Nomination Day” and not “Postulation Day.”
The Minister Plenipotentiary in The Hague is not a minister. The “Constitution” of St. Martin provides for only seven ministers who head seven ministries.
The Minister Plenipotentiary falls under the Prime Minister and Minister of General Affairs and reports directly to him or her.
The Minister Plenipotentiary title may sound misleading, but it apparently derives from diplomatic nomenclature. It is similar in function to the office of the Dutch Representative in Philipsburg, St. Martin.
Fabian A. Badejo
Fabian A. Badejo is a culture critic, author, and senior St. Martin journalist.