PHILIPSBURG--The United People's (UP) party is not in violation of any campaign regulation pertaining to the placement of posters and other campaign paraphernalia, UP Leader Member of Parliament Theo Heyliger said in a press statement Monday.
UP believes that several of the guidelines stipulated by Justice Minister Dennis Richardson are in contravention of the Constitution, the National Ordinance on Public Manifestations and International Treaty on Human Rights.
Heyliger said party representatives have met with Justice Minister Dennis Richardson about the general elections regulations and have filed an official written response on the subject to the minister.
UP's discussion with the minister centred on a gentlemen's agreement. "The other parties, not being ready, came up with all kinds of proposed rules that, in our opinion go against the freedom of expression and were geared mainly at putting down UP's campaign," Heyliger said.
Minister Richardson sent his traffic safety rules to political parties two days prior to Nomination Day, July 11.
"In the era of transparency and integrity, the minister/ministry, with all due respect, should have published rules at least six months prior to postulation day," Heyliger said. "Further, the very Electoral Council should have been in place two years prior to election. Yet another important mechanism in the process was left almost to the last minute.
"So stating that we have gone against the rules is not correct. What we are seeing here is a blatant attempt from the National Alliance Leader William Marlin to sidestep the real issues in our community and the crumbling of his leadership by pointing fingers, as usual, to someone else's perceived misconduct," Heyliger said about Marlin's press statement issued on Sunday.
"The UP campaign, unlike other parties, was planned a year ago, hence 'We Ready' slogan. UP even requested its public meeting permits way before postulation day. That's how ready we are," Heyliger said.
When reviewing the minister's memorandum, UP was "surprised at the blatant attempt" by the justice minister to infringe on the freedom of expression anchored in the Treaty for Human Rights, the Constitution and the National Ordinance on public manifestations.
"I am surprised that other political parties did not pick up on these violations and question the minister. Instead, parties chose to spend their energies attacking UP when the freedom of expression of all of us has been put in check. UP did not sit back and let the regulations sit, we voiced our concerns in a letter to the minister," Heyliger said.
UP informed the justice minister since May 29 that the introduction of his memorandum, titled "Rules of the Game for Election Campaign 2014," was "most surprising" as was the fact that the memorandum "seems to be driven by the request of diverse party leaders and consultations held with them."
At the time of the minister's memorandum (May 23), only two political parties legally and duly registered with the Electoral Council. As such, only two party leaders could have consulted with the minister, according to UP.
This action of the minister is deemed "premature" as most of the political parties have not yet registered and may not be considered as political parties in the sense of the Electoral law. Solely the opinions of registered and thus recognized political parties can be considered if at all, according to the UP's May 29 letter to the minister.
Heyliger nor the UP board were consulted prior to the issuance of the memorandum, according to the party.
It is clear that the undertaking by the minister was stirred by one party, thus one party leader. This, on its own, weakens the undertaking as this is a one-sided approach from a biased premise that serves the interest of one, the UP letter relayed to the justice minister.
"Now that same political party, to be blunt the Democratic Party, has more posters and campaign materials on light poles," Heyliger added on Monday.
The minister's memorandum stated that "all campaign activities will be allowed to start on postulation day, July 11th, 2014" and "campaign activities is understood, but not limited to these, amongst other things: public meetings, flagging, placing of billboards, signs, rallies, parades, motorcades, advertising on radio, television and in newspapers and such, as well as all manner of mass public relation activities in the public domain or for the general public accessible areas."
That section seems to suggest that there is a belief that the freedom of speech/expression, anchored in the Treaty for Human Rights, the Constitution and the National ordinance on public manifestations can be set aside, or restricted by a ministerial decision. Such an assumption has no legal bearing, and would result in a regulation which is null and void. A "further detailed response" from the minister was requested, but never received by UP.
The decision to determine when campaigning is to commence is "in direct violation with the right of political expression, which cannot be restricted in the pre-emptive manner suggested. The Criminal Code provides amply for instances in which such right of expression are conducted in a malicious or slanderous manner. A regulation such as proposed by this memorandum lacks a legal basis, and cannot be based on the regulation that permits actions in light of public order," UP states in its letter.
Utilization of wording such as "but not limited to these" suggests "a discretionary power which the Minister of Justice is not granted by any applicable law."
The National Ordinance on public manifestations dictates clearly in which instances the Minister of Justice may issue orders. Such orders are issued in the event a conflict occurs with public health, traffic, public unrest, the party says. "This ordinance clearly indicates that the orders may be issued in the event that such an event occurs, thus stipulating that orders may not be issued on a preventive basis, as is suggested hereby," the party said.
Richardson has "no legal authority" to determine by ministerial decision, where political gatherings may be conducted or to designate specific areas for this purpose. "This too is in violation of the rights granted and protected by the Constitution and the National ordinance of public manifestations."
The minister's attempt to regulate public meetings of political parties including taping of the public meetings by the police is an attempt at curtailing free speech, the party said. "The suggested censorship here is a poor attempt to affect the freedom of speech in St. Maarten. That such a regulation would be illegal is discernible."
The minister's guidelines for billboards, signs and banners also have "no legal basis. No applicable law provides the minister with the authority to determine and set the size of posters and billboards ... such a measure serves no public order objective and even if this was the case the Minister is not permitted to have a law of higher ranking derogate to his decision," said the party.
The minister called for all public political activities to cease as of Wednesday, August 27, 2014, to allow for calm reflection of the citizens on voting on Friday, August 29, 2014. UP states in its letter there is no applicable law that provides a basis for such a regulation to be established by the Minister.
Regulations for the polling stations set out by the minister; including police officers giving instruction have "no basis in the law. The Election Ordinance and the Election Decree already regulate the establishment and workings of polling stations."
The Election Ordinance "clearly dictates" that changes to the law or further measures required for the execution of the law must be established by National Decree containing general measures LBHAM. "The minister is not permitted to alter or otherwise determine the manner in which conditions set forth by law are to be executed, through a ministerial decree. Instructions by police officers as suggested herein have no legal basis within the framework of our laws."
The minister also stated in his memorandum that in the interest of discouraging vote buying and vote selling, the curtains will be removed from the voting booths and voters must refrain from registering their votes electronically. "Given the stipulations set forth in Article 12 of the Elections Decree, it must be clear that this proposal has no legal basis, UP stated in its letter to the minister.