Hold both elections at same time
THERE IS a big debate on whether the local government election should be called now. As a government member of parliament, I will try not to be tribal in my discourse.
Recent memory will recall members of the Opposition declaring that no local government elections should be called at this time, that they should be put off, and giving 'credible' reasons why this should be so. Long-term memory will recall that the timely calling of local government elections was put off, sometimes in a most disrespectful way to the populace, several times by both the People's National Party and Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) administrations.
The cost of conducting an election in Jamaica, I am told, runs into some J$1.1 billion to J$1.3 billion. Many will say money can't be too much for the exercise of democracy, but as a developing island nation plagued by lack of real growth over decades now, the lack of some basic infrastructure like portable water and proper roads, although we still need to spend that money on the elections, we also need to look at ways that will cost the tax payers less without compromising the process.
It would bring big savings if we had both the local government and general elections at the same time. Let us go with what the JLP originally asked for and put off the local government elections and use the time, energy, and money to solve some serious national issues.
On June 8, I was privileged to witness the elections of the British Virgin Islands (BVI) as part of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Election Observer Mission. I was anticipating great difficulties with the process with a two-in-one election, but that trepidation had proven to be unfounded by the morning of the elections.
It is commendable that the BVI gives provision for an advanced polling day similar to ours, save that this one not only enables the police and the military to vote in advance, but also includes polling staff, the elderly (over 70 years), and the incapacitated. This week could easily adapt and eliminate the difficult logistics of election-day workers leaving their post to go and vote, as well as that of the elderly, who sometimes cannot bear the long lines and other sources of discomfort.
Election day was peaceful. Voters exercised patience and cordiality while waiting in queues. The police kept order in a courteous manner and the polling staff were thorough and attentive in the administration of procedures. I now hear readers saying "not in Jamaica", "can't happen here". I say to them that, if every generation says the same thing, we will not advance fully.
There were two sets of candidates and two sets of ballots - one for those running for district and another for those running for territorial. The polling-station staff would hand the voter both ballots and carefully explain to them which was which (different size and different colour) and instructed them how to vote for the candidates of their choice on each. Importantly, the option was there for the voter to be given one ballot at a time (district or territorial), get the relevant instructions from the polling staff, mark and return to be placed in the relevant box (district or territorial), then collect the other, get the instructions again relating to that ballot, vote and deposit in the relevant box.
First, it is less expensive on the government coffers, as while this method might not save us a complete J$1.3 billion, the rationale is that there will be tremendous savings, not only for the Government, but for the political parties, the candidates, the private and public sector who normally lose at least half day of productivity.
1) Put off the local government election for a year (until 2016).
2) The general election is due in 2016, and, since it is unusual to go exactly to the end of the five-year term, I recommend that we bring it forward by a few months.
3) Call both elections together on two separate ballots.
4) Implement real advanced polling for the categories of person I have listed above.
5) To finally iron out the process constitutionally and legislatively, a serious Electoral Commission of Jamaica should be set up (different from, or in addition to what exists) with added legal minds and great input from the leaders of both major parties and other stakeholders. This committee could, like many other countries, look at reducing the term tenure for general elections to four years, while we increase the local government term to four.
- Dr Winston Green is MP for East St Mary. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.