Tue | Apr 25, 2017

Editorial: Fuller embrace of diaspora

Published:Friday | June 12, 2015 | 6:00 AM

We welcome Andrew Holness' embrace of this newspaper's advocacy for Jamaica to mirror France in giving its diaspora a vote and direct representation in the island's Parliament. We urge Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller to follow suit.

Indeed, this is an issue that we would expect Mrs Simpson Miller's People's National Party (PNP), with its history of supporting institutions among Jamaicans abroad, to more instinctively support than Mr Holness' Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). In fact, Mrs Simpson Miller, during her first stint as prime minister, was partially on this route when she floated the possibility of representation for the diaspora in the appointed Senate.

We were, therefore, surprised at last month's forthright declaration by the junior foreign minister that giving the diaspora a vote was not, at this time, within the Government's contemplation. His position was that Jamaicans who live abroad and were already on the voters' register could fly home to cast their ballots if they so wished.

 

MORE THAN EXPLOITABLE ASSETS

 

Our proposal for the engagement of the diaspora, and allowing them specific parliamentary representation, is rooted in something far greater: the notion of Greater Jamaica, whose boundaries stretch beyond the spatial environment of the island, to encompass areas, globally, where Jamaicans reside. The broad aim is to gather the intellectual and material capacities of Jamaicans, wherever they are, to the benefit of all of us - at home and abroad.

In that sense, Jamaicans in the diaspora are perceived as more than exploitable assets. In keeping with this new paradigm, it would allow representation so that their interests are directly articulated in the legislature. France's onzième circonscription, as we have often argued, and which Mr Holness told Jamaicans in the United Kingdom he supports, provides a potentially workable model.

France has long provided representation in its Senate to its citizens who live abroad by members appointed by a body that is roughly similar to Jamaica's Diaspora Council. But since 2012, the 2.5 million French people overseas have been able to directly vote for 11 members of the National Assembly, with two of those seats reserved for the Americas.

 

OVERCOMING CHALLENGES

 

We do not presume that putting in place any such system would be without challenges, including the basis for attendance of any legislator who happened to live overseas. Technology and the timing and sittings could partially compensate.

There would also be need for constitutional amendments, such as to Section 37, covering the right to vote; Section 39, relating to who can be candidates; and Section 40, which disqualifies persons "under an acknowledgement of allegiance, obedience or adherence to a foreign power or state" from being members of the legislature.

None of these clauses, however, are, on the face of it, deeply entrenched provisions requiring super majorities or special provisions for passage. In any event, such changes ought not to generate the kind of controversy to preclude bipartisan support. They could be part of a bundle of constitutional amendments that the Government and Opposition could agree to fast-track.

Now that Mr Holness has signalled his backing for the diaspora initiative, we propose that Mrs Simpson Miller make it a key theme at any address she gives at the diaspora conference in Jamaica in a week's time.