photo: Urisha Blake

ORANJESTAD – “What’s most noticeable this time is that for the first time in a long time we have two female party leaders”, says Urisha Blake, a teacher and well-known blogger on the island. “It remains to be seen however, if they will have something to say. Because politics on the island have been dominated by male politicians.”

2102 Statians (total number of inhabitants: 3383) are allowed to cast their votes for a new island council, which will be installed for the upcoming 2,5 years, on Wednesday. At first it looked like there wouldn’t be much interest in the elections, said Blake. “A lot of people thought: we’re not going to vote because the new island council wouldn’t have anything to say when it comes to governing.”

Due to the coronavirus campaigns moved online instead of outdoors – picture: Urisha Blake

But according to her this has changed. Mainly because the bigger parties such as PLP realized that they would have more power in the island council than they thought. “Prominent party members like Franklin Brown are still calling on citizens not to vote. But Rechelline (Leerdam, party leader of the PLP) has said that she and other party members have changed their minds. So now I’m hearing that more Statians are going to vote. The thinking is: something is better than nothing at all.”

In an interview with Blake, Leerdam said that the reason to participate in these elections was to provide ‘the people with more transparency’. “During the last two years under Franco (the former government commissioner appointed by the Netherlands, ed.) we didn’t receive any updates or information. So we said: we want a seat at the table (in the island council) so that we can at least get first-hand information and are able to provide the people with transparency about decisions being made.”

Candidate list PLP – picture: Urisha Blake

But now that it seems the newly elected island council will have more authority, the party is scrambling. “We’ve spoken to Van Rij (current government commissioner, ed.) and he indicated that in this phase, the island council will be allowed to table motions. I immediately thought: wow, that’s interesting! And we also have a right to question and interpellate. So we will be able to hold the government accountable.” And holding politicians and the government accountable, is the most important thing in a democracy, Leerdam finds.

After October 21st the island council, which has five seats, will be able to control the local government for the first time in two years since the Dutch intervention. That government will however still be made up of a government commissioner (appointed by the Netherlands) instead of locally elected deputies and a Lieutenant-Governor. So Statia will still not have a fully functioning democracy after this election.
‘We’re not participating just for show’

Three parties are partaking in this election: the Democratic Party (DP), Progressive Labour Party (PLP), and United People’s Coalition (UPC), with 26 candidates in total. According to Blake it’s noticeable that a lot of females are high on the lists, in more appointable positions; the two biggest parties even have female party leaders.

The Democratic Party’s candidate list – picture: Urisha Blake

Like DP, which has 12 candidates on the list. But Raquel Spanner-Carty, number 5 on the list isn’t impressed by this. “I never felt a difference. Because I never saw it as unattainable, I’m not impressed by what we have achieved. Because it has always been possible. What we as women do bring to the table however is the ability to multitask. We’re great at doing that, great.”

Rechelline Leerdam is the party leader for PLP, with 11 candidates on the list. The party has always been led by men and for the past 20 years by Clyde van Putten. Van Putten removed himself as the party leader, but is still on the list as a prominent list ‘pusher’ at number 11.

“What people on the outside think is that even though I’m the frontrunner, mister Van Putten will become the leader once more. That is not the case. It will take some time before everyone has adjusted, especially for PLP because he was our leader for 20 years. But as time goes by people will realize that there truly is new leadership within the party. And they will see that I’m not just here for show”, says Leerdam.

‘I want to bring female empowerment to the table’

The smallest party, UPC, with three candidates on the list has Carmen Nova as its second candidate and she had this to say about female politicians: “I want to bring female empowerment to the table. Encourage women, tell them that they can do anything, everything is possible if you want it.”

candidate list United People’s Coalition – own picture

She doesn’t agree with the stance that female politicians don’t play an important role when it comes to decision making. “In our party we don’t have that. Everyone is equal. Some might have more experience in the political arena. But that doesn’t mean that certain heavy responsibilities don’t get delegated to us because our leader happens to be male.”