MP Frans Richardson sounds the alarm: Social media messages: kill the prime minister

POSTED: 05/25/16 7:10 PM

St. Maarten News – Messages on social media suggest killing the prime minister, members of parliament and their corrupted friends, MP Frans Richardson said during a meeting of parliament about vote buying. While Richardson considered there threats far more important than the issue of vote buying, no other MP even reacted to his statement.

“I am going to protect myself and my family,” Richardson said. “I am not joking.”

Richardson said that Dutch parliamentarians Bosman and Van Raak entertain the individuals who are spreading these messages as their friends. “And they don’t condemn this. These are serious issues. You have to do something, or something is going to happen. This is not the St. Maarten we want for our people.”

As for vote buying, Richardson said that the issue is very simple: “You go to someone and say, vote for me and I will give you $300 or a phone. That’s vote buying, giving away tee shirts during the campaign is something else, that is not vote buying.”

Before Richardson’s statement several MPs had made a song and dance about the definition of vote buying. The meeting was requested by the opposition, consisting of the United People’s party and independents Cornelius de Weever and Leona Marlin-Romeo.

Especially the UP is angling for a definition that is narrower than the description in the criminal code. As “the poster child of vote buying” as faction leader Franklin Meyers later would say, the UP is now extremely careful, or so it seems.

At the start of the meeting, Justice Minister Edson Kirindongo gave a rather scholarly explanation about the Trias Politica, saying that the parliament is the legislator and that the minister should actually be asking the question what it wants with a policy on vote buying.

“It is important for the population to understand what vote buying is,” UP-leader Theo Heyliger said. “It is unfortunate that the Public Prosecutor’s Office is not here to present its interpretation.”

Heyliger asked for a precise description of the terms ‘gift’ and ‘promise’ in the criminal code.

He noted that being a Member of Parliament is probably “the only job where you have to pay to go to work. Every day someone stops me for help with some issue, but nowadays I have to be careful. How broad is this and does it cover the entire period you are in parliament? The article in the criminal code is too broad and leaves room for interpretation. I have never said to anyone: if you vote for me, I’ll give you money.”

Heyliger said that he wants to know the rules of engagement before the September elections. “Is giving away a tee shirt, throwing a party, or handing out chicken legs and Johnny cakes vote buying? With these things all eyes are always on green. I expect a policy from the minister that makes very clear what vote buying is.”

Leona Marlin-Romeo, who has an initiative to give back to the community, wondered if that falls under vote buying and Tamara Leonard expressed similar sentiments saying that she has always been assisting many people. “At what time before or after an election am I not allowed to be my brother’s keeper?” she asked.

Leonard said that when she went out during the 2014 campaign, knocking on people’s door and asking for their vote, ten out of ten times people told her: “I need something from you.”

Dr. Lloyd Richardson also thought that it is unclear what exactly constitutes vote buying. “Has anyone ever been punished for vote buying in the Netherlands Antilles?”

MP Rodolphe Samuel wondered whether the police officers that were suspended for the 2010 vote buying scandal had been wrongly accused because they were never sentenced.

Samuel also danced around the term promise, given that a promise made in exchange for a vote also adds up to vote buying. “Campaign programs are full of promises,” he said.

MP Johan Leonard, with a reference to US presidential candidate Donald Trump (I’ll make America great again) wondered if saying I’ll make St. Maarten great again would also fall under forbidden promises.

UP faction leader Franklin Meyers said that it is clear to him what vote buying is but that his party still feels the need for a definition. He also feels that the UP is being singled out by the Netherlands as the “poster child of vote buying” while the law should come after every party for such infringements.

Meyers stood up for MP Silvio Matser, who is a suspect in a vote buying investigation, labeling him as a victim. He also brought in local culture: “Neighbor you’ve got sugar? You help me today, I help you tomorrow. They are forcing us to be Dutch but we are not; we are St. Maarteners. We are a small community and we have always relied on each other. The Dutch agenda was to make the UP look like the most corrupt party, as if this is not done anywhere else. But we will not be the Barry Bonds of steroids.”

MP George Pantophlet said he also had trouble nailing down vote buying in a definition. “You cannot legislate morality; they will always find a way to circumvent the law.”

MP Christophe Emmanuel read a whole newspaper article about the 2010 vote buying scandal – the one where the court declared the prosecution inadmissible, without referring to the ruling from the Appeals Court that threw out accusations of class justice and sent the case back to the Court in First Instance for handling.

The meeting was adjourned until the second week of June when Minister Kirindongo will react to questions and remarks made during the first round.

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