Monday , July 4 2022

First European parliament elections on Saba

The island had only one European Parliament election station set-up in Windwardside, open from 7:30am until 9:30pm, writes The Daily Herald. Voting bureau coordinator Nellie Peterson said the island government accommodated the first European Parliament election on Saba by issuing informational materials on the local television station, a video clip in which with Island Governor Jonathan Johnson explained voting rights and procedures. Boards announcing the historic event were posted across the island and informational materials were released via the local radio as well. Despite efforts to setup two voting stations, the Sunny Valley Youth Centre in The Bottom could not be opened due to ongoing upgrading of the facility.

Marva Donker, President of the voting bureau was assisted by Vice-president Mary Simmons and members Melissa Juana, Stephen Hughes and Yvonne Hassell in ensuring that the confidentiality of the vote was respected. Donker noted that some were quite eager to cast their vote. Local, senior political figure Will Johnson, together with his wife, made sure to cast his ballot at 7:45am. Others were not as enthusiastic and by early afternoon only 42 out of the eligible 817 electors had used their privilege. Peterson explained that this not necessarily an atypical outcome, most Sabans choose to vote in the evening after office hours. She was surprised to see more locals rather than European Dutch residents show their interest in this exercise. Together with other board members she personally delivered voting ballots to eligible voters and while some did not care while others were quite interested in learning more about it. “A lot of them said they didn’t understand if other European countries’ candidates were going to be on the list or just the Dutch candidates. “There was not enough information, meaning they knew how to vote but they didn’t know for whom to vote. The actual information feed from the parties, well, there was none.”

The lack of political socialisation on the stand of the various Dutch parties, or even basic knowledge about the voting track record of candidates made it difficult for Sabans to make an informed decision and passively discouraged participation. While stringent European Union (EU) laws and regulations may not apply to the Caribbean Netherlands overseas territories, Sabans with Dutch passports benefit with all EU rights, and the island is one of the highest per capita receivers of European Commission Development and infrastructure funds.

This favourable legal framework and the continued pursuit of the best interest of the island in it are seen as linked to the election of certain Dutch politicians in the European Parliament.

Director of Saba Tourism Glenn Holm stressed that he sees voting as a civic duty. “We need to speak up and show interest in our community’s welfare, which is in part determined by these elections.” Holm acknowledged there is great confusion about these elections with many not knowing why they should vote or for whom. “It is important to do some research, look online who the candidates are and who can do most for the islands.” Holm says the extensive upgrading of the Fort Bay Harbour with European Commission allocated funds is a palpable impact of the EU on Saba. He noted that European citizen mobility is a factor in local tourism. He hopes that in the future the electorate will be provided more information linking the benefits with the political process.

Island council member Carl Buncamper said he was proactive in informing himself as to the best candidate and the various stances of the parties on the ballot. He looked for “which parties gave voice to the areas of concern for the island and the country beyond the Kingdom borders. “I looked at the principles on which my own local political party is based, particularly human rights promotion. I looked at which party in the Netherlands embraces those principles, and which candidates have given voice to areas of human rights concern.” In selecting a candidate he looked for those who have consistently given voice to his concerns. “We don’t have a proactive electorate,” acknowledged Buncamper. “We haven’t reached that point. I think more support is needed to allow the voting populous to be aware of what European Parliament representation means, what it has achieved so far and what it could achieve in the future.” He too points out that “many of our development projects have come through European Union funding and people ought to be informed on how this aid distribution came about. This has a lot to do, at the end of the day, with the type of voices we have in the European Parliament.” Unlike the Euro-scepticism that drives low turnout in Europe, he noticed that Dutch parties do not have a communication strategy developed for the islands and this may explain the low voter turnout here.

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