Julio Romney about electoral reform: “Forget personal issues and solve the problem”

POSTED: 03/10/16 6:58 PM

St. Maarten News – Members of Parliament showed up in droves for the central committee meeting yesterday morning where political scientist Julio Romney answered questions they had posed in an earlier meeting about his draft amendment to the election ordinance.

While the answer to some of the questions were rather obvious, Romney went at the end of the session into what he called the intriguing question posed by independent MP Leona Marlin-Romeo: what does he want the parliament to do with all this?

“I want to engage the parliament about this issue, I want parliament to forget personal issues and show the outside world that we can solve our issues. This is not rocket science, because we know what the problem is. Let’s put our heads together and solve this. I gave you a concept, a prototype.”

Parliament president Sarah Wescot-Williams indicated that a report would be made of the meeting containing two suggestions. The first one is to forward Romney’s concept to the government and ask it to consider its contents in the process of electoral reform. The second one is to present the concept for a debate to parliament.

Romney described himself several times ad “a compassionate, patriotic St. Maartener” to explain his drive for working out his proposal.

His first answer was directed at UP-MP Johan Leonard who had wondered whether he would be considered a ship jumper after switching from the People’s Progressive Alliance to the United Peoples party. Since this switch did not happen while Leonard was in parliament, the MP cannot be considered a ship jumper, Romney said. A ship jumper is an MP who separates himself from the list on which he was elected to align himself with another party and cause the fall of the government.

“Why fix the system if it is not broken?” That was a question from MP Christophe Emmanuel. “My proposal has nothing to do with the system,” Romney said. “I am looking at the determination of an election result.”

Romney said that his remark about a lack of maturity was not meant in a condescending manner, but as a way to indicate the level of understanding of parliamentary systems. “We are a young constituent state and we are learning. My motivation is to help us all to learn.”

Romney noted that Emmanuel had more or less validates the fall of subsequent governments by likening the situation to Italy and the Netherlands.

“A falling government is not unique to St. Maarten,” Romney said. “But did the government in the Netherlands fall a lot, as MP Emmanuel said? Since 2010, that government fell twice; the government in St. Maarten fell four times.”

More important than the frequency, Romney said, are the reasons why governments fall. “In February 2010, the PvdA withdrew its support from the government based on the continued military mission of the Netherlands in Afghanistan. In 2012 the PVV withdrew its support because of differences about the 2013 budget. In 2006, D66 withdrew its support over asylum procedures. These were ideology concerns, not the concerns of a single politician. These concerns are completely different from what we are facing in St. Maarten.”

Romney furthermore tackled Emmanuel’s remark about the prime minister coming from the smallest party – a reference to DP-MP Sarah Wescot-Williams who led all governments between 2010 and the elections in 2014.

“There is nothing unique about a prime minister coming from the smallest party. It is not that party, but the coalition it is a part of, that makes such a decision. As we have seen, the prime minister can also be chosen from the outside, like Marcel Gumbs in 2014.”

Romney emphasized that he sees a need for reform to enhance the sustainability of St. Maarten. “The government should be about governing, not about staying in government. It is about the people.”

To MP Rodolphe Samuel – who at one point insisted that Romney address him as MP Drs. Samuel – the political scientist said that there is nothing wrong with the largest remainder-method to allocate seats in parliament. It is just a system that is difficult to understand. For this reason, Romney favors the d’Hondt method.

This system divides the number of votes won by 1, 2, and 3 and further to find the largest average. The results from this method are not different, but the method is simpler, Romney said.

Romney furthermore emphasized that seats belong to the political parties. “The seats are first allocated to the parties, who in turn allocate them to their candidates.”

Romney maintains the difference between candidates that have been elected (by winning at least the quota for one seat) and candidates who have been assigned a seat by their party.

MP Heyliger’s questions were about “the onus on the parties” in Romney’s proposal.

“The problem is with the organization of the parties,” Romney said. “You have to lay out in the by-laws what you expect from your members. If they don’t follow the rules they should be expelled. That is a major problem because it is all about implementation. And if you don’t have the means for it – go and get them.”

Most of all, Romney said, his proposal aims to guarantee proportional representation, based on the will of the electorate. If a party wins two seats (like the DP did in 2014) and it has now one seat, or if it wins seven seats (as the UP did) and it now has only five, that does not represent the will of the electorate, Romney pointed out.

Asked whether he is open to changes to his proposal, Romney answered with a clear yes. “This is not about Julio Romney. It is about finding the most effective solution. My proposal is based on my academic training. I am a compassionate, patriotic St. Maartener. We have to come together and do what is the best for St. Maarten.”

Romney said that there is absolutely no need to change the constitution to achieve the objective of banning ship jumping. “What has to change is the national ordinance,” he said.

Romney remained philosophical about a scenario wherein his proposal is not accepted. “So be it,” he said. “But in that case I will not ride off into the sunset. I will come up with something else.”

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