Governor’s explosive 2013 letter supports dissolution parliamentPOSTED: 10/19/15 12:23 PM
Possible elections pushed back to February 2016
St. Maarten / By Hilbert Haar – Prime Minister Marcel Gumbs has sent an amended national decree to dissolve the parliament to Governor Drs. Eugène Holiday on Wednesday that would push elections back to February of next year. The amendment to the decree was necessary because the Electoral Council needs more time to give possible new parties the opportunity to register.
An explosive letter Governor Holiday wrote in May 2013 and to then Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams shows that, at that time, the governor supported the dissolution of parliament. This newspaper has a copy of the letter in its possession.
The Gumbs Cabinet does not plan to step down, as the new majority in parliament demands. Governor Holiday seemingly made clear in a press release issued shortly after the fall of the cabinet that he does not favor the dissolution of parliament followed by elections either. In a press release issued on October 5, the governor wrote: “Having reviewed the correspondence he received and following completion of the consultations regarding the current political developments the governor has informed parties that there is no basis not to form a new government based on the new majority in parliament.”
This point of view is at odds with a letter the governor sent to then Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams in 2013, after the fall of her second cabinet. At that time, a majority in the Council of Ministers, led by National Alliance Vice-Prime Minister William Marlin wanted to dissolve the parliament, but Wescot-Williams blocked this initiative.
A week before the governor’s letter arrived, Wescot-Williams said at a press briefing: “Parliament can never be dissolved when parliament invokes the confidence rule against one or more ministers or the whole cabinet. If this occurs we are turning things on their head. Imagine this scenario. Parliament (a majority) decides they have no confidence in a minister or in the Council of Ministers. These council members say, ‘Aha, you think you are going to get rid of me? No, I am going to pre-empt you and dissolve you, parliament. Again if this occurs then we’re turning the roles around and throwing the whole system on its head.”
The explosive letter from Governor Holiday never surfaced in 2013 though Wescot-Williams did receive it. In this letter, of which today obtained a copy, the governor writes: “The right to dissolve the parliament by national decree is a constitutional and autonomous right of the government. This right can be seen as a counterpart for the confidence rule. In this context I want to emphasize that for an adequate functioning of our democratic process it is necessary to give space to the majority position in the Council of Ministers. Otherwise, no justice is done to the constitutional process.”
The letter is dated May 16 and addressed to Prime Minister Wescot-Williams. From the text it appears that Wescot-Williams was considering the request by five ministers – a majority in the Council of Ministers – to dissolve the parliament. However, “It appears that you are of the opinion that the current political situation does not justify the dissolution of parliament,” the governor wrote, before making clear that dissolution is an autonomous right and that the majority opinion in the Council of Ministers ought to prevail.
In the current situation, all members of the Council of Ministers are unified in their decision not to vacate their positions and to insist on the dissolution of parliament.
Based on the rules or order for the governor, there are only two options: sign the national decree to dissolve the parliament, or send the decree to the Kingdom government for nullification. The opinion the governor expresses in his May 16, 2013 letter, tallies with the opinions expressed by constitutional law professors Arjen van Rijn, Tijn Kortmann and Joop van den Berg.