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5 political parties get voters’ endorsement

~ SRP out of race ~

POND ISLAND--It may be only five political parties contesting the August 29 Parliamentary Elections for the fifteen parliament seats. Five parties are said to have received the required number of signatures from eligible voters on Monday to make it to the ballot. The sixth, Social Reform Party (SRP), which hoped to continue in the elections race, came up short.

The Democratic Party (DP), National Alliance (NA) United People's (UP) party, United St. Maarten (US) party, and One St. Maarten People's Party (OSPP) confirmed that they had received the required 138 signatures and more to participate in the upcoming elections.

OSPP, led by former commissioner and NA candidate Lenny Priest, received the final signature minutes before the registry closed at 4:00pm. SRP was not so fortunate. It is said to have been short by some 50 signatures.

The official confirmation of the parties that have received the required number of signatures is to be given after the Central Voting Bureau meets on Thursday. At that time, the bureau also will ensure the candidate lists and supporting documents submitted by the parties on Nomination Day, July 11, are in order. The bureau will hold a public meeting to announce the results.

Political parties rallied their supporters go to the Civil Registry to queue up to endorse their lists as soon as the doors opened at 9:00am. By 10:15am, at least two political parties said they had received full endorsement. Two other parties were said to have joined the ranks by noon.

Voters still trickled in to the Civil Registry as the morning wore away. By early afternoon, fewer and fewer people were coming in.

As the only two parties that still needed the required number of signatures, OSPP and SRP representatives kicked into a high gear and started to call supporters who might not have made it yet to the Civil Registry to do so post-haste. They also courted the people heading into the registry if they were not known supporters.

Priest of OSPP told The Daily Herald, "We barely made it. We got the full endorsement. There is a lot of joy and thankfulness for this."

He said it was expected that the "major parties with larger support base" would have made it through the process earlier in the day while OSPP, as a new political party, had to push for its support.

Priest attributed the strenuous effort OSPP had to make to obtain the signatures to the 9:00am to 4:00pm time set for the endorsements. The opening hours posed a "dilemma" for workers. "Had the hours been different, say from 8:00am to later in the afternoon, it would have given people better opportunities to come out and support us. People would have come before going to work. It was also a challenge for people who work over the hill [on the Western side of the island – Ed.]."

SRP leader Mock said he did not want to make any statement about whether his party had received the needed signatures. "I prefer to wait for the official figures from the bureau," he told this newspaper.

Mock said he would not endorse any other political party or individual candidate if it turned out that SRP would not make it on the ballot. "I will wait for the next elections and hope that supporters will come out early so we don't have to drag through the whole day."

Closing off the day, the leaders of the five parties that from all indications will be on the August 29 ballot thanked their supporters for endorsing them.

The upcoming elections are the first parliamentary elections for St. Maarten after attaining country status within the Dutch Kingdom in October 2010. The elections in September 2010 were the last-ever Island Council elections. The number of seats was expanded from 11 to 15 and those elected to the Island Council transitioned to Members of Parliament (MPs) in October when the constitutional status changed from Island Territory of the Netherlands Antilles to country in the kingdom.

All the political parties needed to have their lists endorsed by one per cent of the number of voters who turned for the 2010 elections, amounting to 138 people, because this is the first parliamentary election. In the past, only parties without representation in the Island Council had to go through the endorsement process.

Eight parties registered with the Electoral Council for the upcoming elections. That number had dropped to six by Nomination Day. Concordia Political Alliance (CPA) and Citizens for Positive Change (CPC) announced on July 10 that they no longer would be in the race. The two CPA candidates joined NA and the top CPC candidate joined US.

The endorsement process went mostly smoothly, with the Civil Registry staff showing voters to the requested party's booths. Two signing booths were assigned to each of the six parties.

The only hiccup was when the registry staff informed a representative of one of the parties that they would stop accepting signatures for a party once it had received the required number of signatures, despite the endorsement time being until 4:00pm. However, this was not done after the party rep said the endorsement time had to be adhered to without an early cut-off time.

The atmosphere outside the Civil Registry was cordial and jovial with people greeting and chatting with each other across party lines, as has been the norm in St. Maarten.

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