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Expert says, no objection to dissolving Parliament

page3b118PHILIPSBURG--The Council of Minister is within its rights to dissolve Parliament and to call for new elections, Professor Arjen van Rijn of University of Curaçao stated in his advice to Prime Minister Marcel Gumbs, which was sent Friday.

Prime Minister Gumbs called for the advice after three Members of Parliament (MPs) withdrew their support for his cabinet and voted for a motion of no confidence on Wednesday together with the opposition. This meant the Gumbs cabinet had lost its majority support.

The same day, the opposition informed Governor Eugene Holiday that they had reached an agreement to form a new government with majority support. However, the Gumbs cabinet is seeking to dissolve Parliament and call for a new election on December 8. Up to Sunday, the Governor had not signed a National Decree to this affect.

Prime Minister Gumbs called on Van Rijn, who is considered to be an expert in Constitutional Law and Governmental Renewal, to weigh in on the situation. Gumbs wanted to know whether Government could make use of its right to dissolve Parliament under the current circumstances and whether the Governor had the authority to decline to sign the National Decree to this effect.

In his response, Professor van Rijn said that against Parliament’s right to send home the cabinet or individual ministers, the cabinet had the autonomous right to dissolve Parliament and call for new elections. This right is based on Article 59 of the Constitution, which follows the Dutch Constitution, in which the right to dissolve has been included since 1848.

Van Rijn said Government should be given the opportunity to give voters the chance to speak out and give their opinion about a conflict with Parliament. According to him, the right to dissolve Parliament has been granted to the Cabinet specifically in situations in which Parliament has lost confidence in the sitting Cabinet.

“If Parliament strikes, the Government can strike back,” Van Rijn said, in quoting several other Dutch constitutional experts, adding that this right should keep Parliament from dismissing Government too easily.

The outcome of elections is uncertain, he pointed out, and could lead to opposition parties calling for the resignation of Cabinet members and sustaining considerable losses in the following election or not returning in the newly-elected Parliament at all.

“The rule of trust and the right to dissolve, therefore, form two sides of one medal. Together, they create checks and balances. Eventually this will be to the good of the system’s stability,” Van Rijn wrote in the advice.

He said it had become generally accepted to use the right to dissolve to break an impasse or when a “fresh start” was deemed necessary, and emphasised that the Constitution, not only of St. Maarten, but also of the other islands in the Dutch Caribbean, did not put any limitation to this right. The only limitation is that Parliament cannot be dissolved twice over the same conflict.

In the situation at hand, Government has decided to dissolve Parliament in response to the ongoing habit of defecting and splitting up of parties.

“In the current situation, again several MPs have distanced themselves without any motivation and left the party with which they ran the election. This phenomenon is taking place almost annually since 10-10-10. This is having a destabilising effect and negative consequences for the integrity and quality of government and for the functioning of the democratic system,” Van Rijn stated. In this light, he said the decision to dissolve Parliament was “absolutely legitimate” and convincingly motivated.

Because of the “free mandate” as put down in Article 61, sub 3, of the Constitution, MPs cannot be held from “sailing their own course” and “abandoning ship.” The voter has no influence on that and can only call MPs to account in the next election, Van Rijn stated.

As to the question whether the Governor has the authority to decline the Decree to dissolve Parliament, Van Rijn wrote that Government is responsible and that the ministers’ opinion should be the decisive factor.

According to him, the Governor has no independent authority at this point, or in any other government matter. However, as representative of the Kingdom, the Governor does have, in very limited cases, the authority to decline Government decisions when these are in violation of international or kingdom law.

In concluding, Van Rijn assured the Prime Minister that the Governor is not authorised to decline signing the submitted National Decree to dissolve Parliament. “The Governor must sign, after he possibly made use of his right to be briefly consulted, to give advice and to issue a warning,” Van Rijn said.

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