PLP regains power in first Statia election since Dutch takeover

Despite massive delays in vote-counting, Progressive Labour Party (PLP) is the big winner in St. Eustatius’ first Island Council election since the Dutch government took over the island administration in February 2018, netting a total of 815 votes based on the preliminary results.

Headed by new leader Rechelline Leerdam, who took over from long-time party head Clyde van Putten in July, PLP will get three out of the five seats in the Island Council, based on the preliminary results.

This would see the party return to government. When the Dutch side-lined the local government in early 2018 – citing a culture of intimidation, neglect, discrimination, threats and insults, as well as the pursuit of power for personal gain – PLP was in a coalition with then-independent Island Council Member Reuben Merkman.

Merkman ran on PLP’s slate in yesterday’s election.

Democratic Party (DP) of St. Eustatius netted a total of 647 votes based on the preliminary results, giving the party two seats in the new Island Council.

United People’s Coalition (UPC) garnered some 124 votes, falling short of an Island Council seat.

The island’s two polling stations closed at 9:00pm, but problems with the counting process meant that it lasted deep into the night. Although St. Eustatius Government Commissioner Marnix van Rij had earlier indicated that provisional results would be available by 10:30pm, volunteers and poll workers sat past midnight tallying all the votes.

Consequently, the individual Island Council Members could not be ascertained up to press time. The official results are to be published on Friday morning.

After the preliminary results were announced around 1:00am Thursday, PLP’s candidates and supporters took to the streets in celebration, honking their horns as they made a late-night motorcade.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, both polling stations had plexiglass installed, markers were placed on the ground to promote social distancing, and hand sanitisers were readily available. Volunteers cleaned and disinfected the voting booths between voters.

Election observers were present at both polling stations and most people wore facemasks when they came to cast their votes.

Under the watchful eye of police officers and security guards, eager first-time voters came out in droves to cast their ballots. A sense of excitement was in the air near the polling stations, where the three political parties contesting the election had set up tents to await the results with their supporters.

In total, some 1,617 persons came out to vote in the island’s first Island Council election since 2015 – a voter turnout of about 77 per cent. This was 23 more votes cast than in the previous election in 2015, which had a turnout of 65.5 per cent.

Yesterday’s election had a total of 2,102 eligible voters. About 30 per cent of the votes cast were by proxy.

At 9:00am Wednesday, after polls had been open for one hour, a total of 166 persons had cast their votes. At 12:00pm, the total number of votes cast stood at 596.

By 6:00pm, more than 62 per cent of eligible voters had submitted their ballots, with about 40 per cent having voted at Ernest van Putten Youth Center/Lions’ Den and 22 per cent having voted at new polling station Earl N. Merkman Sports Hall.

The Daily Herald spoke with Van Rij on Wednesday afternoon, just as the voter turnout climbed past 50 per cent. “This is a very, very good indication,” he said.

Statia residents were behaving “extremely disciplined”, he said, calling it a “victory for democracy”.

“During COVID-19 times, we are able to organise a free and fair election and people are making use of the democratic right,” said Van Rij.

DP leader Adelka Spanner said on Wednesday afternoon that she was pleased to see the high voter turnout, believing her party to be in good standing based on who had already voted.

UPC leader Elvin Henriquez was also impressed with the high number of persons who cast a ballot. When he spoke to this newspaper on Wednesday evening, the number was close to 1,200 votes cast.

“We still have about three or four hours to go. So, that could give us close to a 1,500 turnout and I think that would be a massive turnout after the circumstances are taken into consideration,” Henriquez said, adding that he hoped Statia would get the government it deserves.

PLP leader Leerdam said her party was “pleasantly surprised” with the turnout. She said she had expected a lower turnout because of COVID-19.

“I think by the time polls close we will reach the 1,500 mark. I think that is a good turnout and we feel that we have the victory,” Leerdam said.

PLP’s candidates were: #1. Rechelline Leerdam, #2. Charles Woodley, #3. Glenville Schmidt, #4. Reuben Merkman, #5. Derrick Simmons Jr., #6. Richenell Tearr, #7. Arlene Spanner-Schmidt, #8. Iligia Jones, #9. Jean Carlos Abreu-Gomez, #10. Carlos Lopes and #11. Clyde Van Putten.

UPC’s candidates were: #1 Elvin Henriquez, #2 Carmen Nova Bonilla and #3 Daniela Richardson.

DP’s candidates were: #1. Adelka Spanner, #2. Koos Sneek, #3. Ernie Simmons, #4. Julian Woodley, #5. Raquel Spanner-Carty, #6. Shanna Mercera-Gibbs, #7. Sjahaira Fleming, #8. Adonis Cijntje, #9. Magda Korstanje-Spanner, #10. Candidia Woodley, #11. Hipolito Herrera Rodriguez and #12. Austin van Heyningen.

The Daily Herald.

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