photo: Hilbert Haar

PHILIPSBURG – Theo Heyliger, the popular yet controversial leader of the newly formed United Democrats, dominated yesterday’s tense elections held in St. Maarten. While being on the same ballot, Heyliger with 1289 votes got almost twice as many votes than the former Prime Minister Sara Wescot Williams, with 566 votes.

The UD, a merger of the United People’s party and the Democratic Party – won the elections, but not with the overwhelming majority the party was aiming for. With seven seats, the UD is one short of a majority in the fifteen seats counting parliament.

Key position SMCP
Wycliffe Smith of the St. Maarten Christian Party or SMCP, a dark horse in this election surprisingly got 577 personal votes, also won a seat. Although Smith previously denied any link with the UD, SMCP seems likely the right party to work with the UD in a new coalition.

The new government will have to work hard at the reconstruction of the island, after St. Maarten was devastated by hurricane Irma last September. The Netherlands has mobilized 550 million euros for the reconstruction.

‘Difficult task’
On Monday, UD leader Theo Heyliger said that for the years to come, getting the economy going and providing housing for citizens are the most important priorities. According to Heyliger, these elections were a difficult task for everyone. “Even for me it was difficult to get donations,” he said.

Party of former Prime Minister Marlin

The archrival of the UD, the National Alliance, did surprisingly well, after all the criticism that former Prime Minister William Marlin received in the aftermath of hurricane Irma. With five seats, however, the party will likely be in the opposition.

The United St. Maarten party of the recently released Frans Richardson had to turn in a seat, but managed to keep two. He is suspected of accepting $ 370,000 in bribes, buying votes during the 2016 elections and tax fraud.

Richardson may enter the faction with the controversial interim director of the Tourism Bureau, Rolando Brison, but it could also be the equally controversial former minister Maria Buncamper–Molanus, convicted of tax fraud. It was rumored that Brison had tampered with money from the local airline Winair.

Dissemination of ballots and observers

The attendance was 62 percent, slightly lower than the 2016 elections when the turnout was 65 percent. Because many people are still recovering from the devastation that hurricane Irma left behind in September, the attendance was expected to be even lower.

Not everyone had received a ballot, which caused confusion at the polling stations.

The elections on Monday went without incident, the third since the dismantling of the Netherlands Antilles on October 10th, 2010. There were observers present at the elections, at the request of the interim government of St. Maarten.

These consisted of D66 front man Alexander Pechtold, SP-first MP Meta Meijer and representatives of the polling stations of Aruba and Curaçao. Opinions on the presence of the observers on the island were divided.