Saturday, Jun 06th

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Editorial - Court of public opinion

Curaçao coalition partner PAIS has submitted a draft law that prohibits taking photographs of election ballots. These can be used as receipts for selling votes.

The same discussion was held in St. Maarten prior to last year’s elections. However, in the end no concrete action followed.

A suggestion to remove the curtains of voting booths and allow a bit of scrutiny led to concerns over the privacy aspect. Persons should be able to exercise their fundamental democratic right without fear of being watched.

The legislation presented in Willemstad forbids bringing electronic devices that can take pictures into the booths. However, that creates enforcement issues, including carrying responsibility for holding on to such valuables while the voting takes place.

Serious control also might involve having to body-search citizens or employ metal detectors, hardly an attractive prospect in an election. Besides, technology keeps advancing and even a wristwatch conceivably could serve the same purpose.

In any case, evidently it’s not so much individual votes one has to worry about nowadays, but rather entire Parliament seats. The extent of so-called “fence-jumping” especially since country status was obtained per 10-10-10 not only had a destabilising effect on government, but raised questions about the motives.

Especially the timing in certain instances seemed highly suspect, as did the eases in which some turned their backs on other politicians, only to embrace them again soon after. One former “independent” parliamentarian went as far as filing a bribery-attempt complaint against his ex-leader to then still form a coalition with him.

There was, of course, a vote-buying trial, while a current opposition member made use of his parliamentary immunity to claim he had been offered big money twice by a rival party. All this merely has added to a less-than-positive image.

Part of the lack of trust in the local political establishment among, for example, Dutch parliamentarians and administrators has to do with these perceptions, whether always based on fact or not. That is a reality with which people and their elected representatives will have to live, at least for the time-being.

The best way to change this is by proving the doubters wrong. From here on in legislators no longer should switch allegiance unless they have very good reasons of principle and are willing to share those in detail with the population.

Forcing them to give up the seats they occupy altogether, as has been proposed, would limit their freedom severely and appears in contravention of the oath of office to act according to one’s good conscience. In the long term the “court of public opinion” is probably the best way to deal with excesses, because the electoral power ultimately lies with the voters.