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Editorial: Giving the vote to Greater Jamaica

Published:Tuesday | May 5, 2015 | 12:00 AM

We suppose that Arnaldo Brown, the junior foreign minister, may have misapprehended the substance of the discussion - insofar as any of substance has been engaged recently - about legislative representation for Jamaicans living abroad.

Judging from his remarks at the forum hosted by this newspaper, Mr Brown, who has responsibility for diaspora affairs, sees the matter as primarily whether Jamaica should allow absentee ballots, which he says the "Government is not contemplating" at this time.

In any event, he said, "Anybody who is serious about voting in Jamaica does not have an impediment if they are already registered to vote." In other words, such persons can fly to Jamaica and cast their ballots in the constituencies for which they are registered. The administration's preference, Mr Brown further suggests, is for Jamaicans to vote in the countries where they live and leverage this political influence for policies favourable to Jamaica.

What Arnaldo Brown's argument misses is the larger concept of the Jamaican diaspora, other than tools in service to the 2.7 million of us who live on the island. Or, put another way, he appears not to have contemplated the idea of Jamaica beyond spatial boundaries, in which those at home and abroad work for a common interest and, therefore, share in their evolution and execution. We have in the past, in these columns, referred to this idea of the country as Greater Jamaica.

This is not a notion that is foreign in the concept of modern nation states, as the French with their Onzieme Circumscription, their 11th constituency for 2.5 million French people who are estimated to live abroad, which, by the way, is around half a million fewer than the number of Jamaicans believed to be in the diaspora.

Indeed, for decades, French citizens who live outside the European mainland or in its overseas departments have been afforded representation in the Senate, chosen via the Assembly of French Citizens Abroad, an organisation roughly analogous to Jamaica's Diaspora Council.


l'etranger able to vote


French overseas citizens could also vote for the president. But since 2011, l'etranger has also been able to vote for its own deputies in the national assembly, where 11 constituencies are reserved for that group. Two of those constituencies, for example, are in the Americas and one is in Britain.

The French believe that while a Frenchman may live and work in Jamaica or Britain or in Quebec, Canada, he does not necessarily lose his economic and/or cultural engagement with the home country and, therefore, his right, obligation even, to be at the heart of national policymaking.

Creating overseas constituencies, lifting the bar against persons with citizenship - other than in Commonwealth countries - being members of the legislature, as well as the residency requirements for prospective candidates, would require constitutional amendments, including, at least in one case, a plebiscite on the matter.

However, as Jamaica seeks to utilise the talents, skills and economic resources of all its people, this wider conception of the country, we believe, should be seriously discussed, including at next month's Biennial Jamaica Diaspora Conference in Montego Bay.