CYRUS WATHEY SQUARE--United People's (UP) party, headed by "caretaker" commissioner and Island Councilman Theo Heyliger, was launched on Cyrus Wathey Square in the presence of a large gathering on Saturday.
This coincided with the launch of the party's campaign for the September 17 early Island Council elections.
UP president is former commissioner and Island Councilman Franklin Meyers. Former University of St. Martin president, Josianne Fleming-Artsen, is the party's vice president. Other board members are former Progressive People's Alliance (PPA) board member Cleveland Beresford, young entrepreneur Tamara Leonard, Port management graduate Rosina Romeo, businesswoman Joyce Wathey-Yee, and marine/yachting entrepreneur James Roidis.
The board signed party documents on the square with Notary Francis "Gachie" Gijsbertha conducting the proceedings.
Heyliger said of the party: "We are, quite simply, the United People. And we will be like a breath of fresh air in a stuffy, old room. We believe that a government or political party should never lose touch with the needs of ordinary folks. They are the heart and soul of a democracy. The United People will return to the cherished principles that once guided St. Maarten to becoming the best place in which to live, while providing new ideas toward solving the problems of a new century."
The main focus of the launch was the signing of party documents by board members on the square, and the unveiling of the party's logo: UP in lime green and the first letter with an arrowhead pointing upwards. The large banner hung in Barefoot Terrace was covered by orange drapery before it was unveiled.
The orange symbolises the merging of PPA, headed by Gracita Arrindell. The official signing between PPA and UP is expected to take place in the coming days.
One of the party's campaign songs – a cover of Shakira's FIFA World Cup anthem, Waka, Waka, was also played for the crowd.
Heyliger said "UP was built from the ground up to meet the challenges of the 21st century. We have created at once both a modern party with the vision necessary to work in a complex global economy and an organization based on timeless values that keep us in touch with the everyday needs and concerns of the people."
The "green" party's campaign theme is "Let's team UP for St. Maarten." Commenting on the theme, the party leader said the call is for "teaming up for the country we all love so much, because only through unity, only through teamwork can we accomplish what is necessary for St. Maarten. I will be teaming up with some of the island's best and brightest for Country St. Maarten."
Some of those best and brightest who will appear on the UP slate for the September polls include Arrindell, Deputy Police Chief Commissioner Richard Panneflek, former Police Spokesman Inspector Johan "Janchi" Leonard, Sylvia Meyers, Gregory Richardson, and Marshal Solange Apon.
"St. Maarten needs people who know how to provide solutions. We know what is important to all of St. Maarten's people, and with this in mind, the UP party was born," Heyliger said.
UP president, Meyers, told the gathering the party started many months ago. "It is what the people of St. Maarten want and we are going to give the people of St. Maarten what they want."
Meyers welcomed the "former leader" of PPA Gracita Arrindell, PPA members, and supporters who have given UP their support. Arrindell was not present at the launch, but several former PPA candidates, tipped to be on the UP list, were in attendance.
"What the people of PPA showed is that they put country above self. They put all our political differences aside and come together [with UP] for the unity of St. Maarten because of the road we are heading now. We need all hands on deck.
"The people have been asking for us to stop the political bickering, stop the political fighting, and put all hands on deck and, for once in our lives, fight for the people of St. Maarten," the UP president said.
Meyers urged the other political parties not to "take the UP lightly because we are here to work for the people of St. Maarten. Our main focus is the people of St. Maarten, putting people first."
The date and place chosen for the launch were of significance.
July 24 is the birth anniversary of the late Dr. Claude Wathey, Heyliger's grandfather who is considered by many as the "father of St. Maarten." He was also the co-founder of the Democratic Party of which Heyliger was a member until June 2009.
Meyers shared with the gathering an excerpt from an interview with Dr. Wathey, printed in Know Your Political History by Edgar and Julian Lynch to show "how history repeats itself."
Wathey said in the interview that one of his most difficult periods in politics was his early days when the more experienced in the political arena looked at him as a boy. "...All of them [said], how can we have a boy in the government. So I had little respect from those people for what I was doing."
Meyers drew a comparison with UP leader Heyliger who is considered young by some veteran politicians. Like Wathey, who had to go out to show the people what he was capable of, Heyliger had done the same and had overcome hurdles like his grandfather, he said.
Wathey remained part of the Central Government as a member of DP for many years "along with the help of the PPA [of Aruba] and myself and the one [DP] from Bonaire" he pointed out in the interview.
Meyers said a lot of things will be said about the new UP party and its candidates, some of whom are newcomers and others veteran politicians. "Given the opportunity, a lot of young people can do a lot of good things for this sweet St. Maarten land that we call home."
Cyrus Wathey Square was named after the father of Wathey and great grandfather of Heyliger.
UP candidate Johan Leonard made a fiery speech to the gathering about what UP stands for and what it will deliver to the island. People have the right to be frustrated and angry because of the difficulties being faced, he said, adding that UP is "deeply concerned" about the state the island is in. "St. Maarten is hungry for new ideas, for a new kind of politics, for a new party."
Some 400 people reportedly signed up to become UP members before and after the official ceremony on the square. Party officials said the party's membership drive started in earnest early last week and will continue in the coming days.
Some 600 T-shirts with the UP logo were also given out at the launch.
The official part of the launch commenced with the St. Maarten Song and an invocation by Eulalie Meyers, mother of UP president. After the ceremony, District Band entertained the gathering on the square well into the night.