Tue | Oct 24, 2017

Strip PMs of mercurial power

Published:Wednesday | November 18, 2015 | 12:00 AM
Glenn Tucker
PNP President and Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller punches the air at a rally in Portmore, St Catherine, on Sunday. Prime ministers should not be able to play cat-and-mouse games with voters, writes Glenn Tucker.
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It was 2007 and I was having a Pepsi at an establishment. There was an air of expectancy.

I learnt that the proprietor's son was to be released from prison later that day and a celebration was planned. An SUV pulled up to the door and stopped. Out jumped a businesslike young woman with T-shirts over both shoulders. She handed a tightly folded T-shirt to the woman behind the counter to be delivered to the soon-to-be-released young man with the instructions that 'di bus comin tomorrow, 4 o'clock sharp'. The shirt was opened to see which candidate's picture was on it and out dropped five $1,000 bills.

That weekend, I tried to multiply the reported number of attendees at that meeting by 5,000, and eight years later, I still cannot believe what I was seeing on the calculator, particularly when reports came about the copious amounts of free food and liquor that was available. That was one meeting!

Two of my concerns relate to the need to conduct parish council and general elections on separate occasions - doubling the financial burden on taxpayers.

The second concern has to do with the untidy arrangement of election dates. Elections are due once every five years. But most of us can recall at some time, a prime minister beating his/her chest on a platform and bragging - in exasperating, 'guess mi did riddle' fashion - that 'only one person (me) knows when'. But should that be so? Is that fair to anybody but the PM?

The last general election was called about a year before the due date. More than a year is left in this term, and word is that it may be called this year.

Detractors claim that the Government has run out of ideas and money. The next Budget is going to be just horrible for Jamaicans. So the Government wants to secure another five years before giving us the bad news. But is that true? We can only speculate because no credible reason is given by the PM why funds, desperately needed to settle long overdue bills and replenish critical supplies like a little soap for hospitals, are being diverted for early elections.

There is yet another school of thought which claims that all the critical areas are in shambles, government henchmen are failing in their attempts to avoid public scrutiny, and this would be a good time to ambush the Opposition, which is said to be short of funds. Whatever is true, I can think of no reason that involves the welfare of the people that necessitates this move.

 

LACK OF RESPECT

 

Apart from the cost, this early election arrangement smacks of lack of respect for principles of electoral democracy. Snap elections open the door to dishonest and fraudulent practices but also human error and honest mistakes. Institutional safeguards are also more difficult to monitor.

Something we frequently see in these arrangements is Tom being plucked from Timbuktu and hastily forced on the people of Kalamazoo, much to the annoyance of many. Future candidates need to plan, have discussions with family, look at their resources and professional career. Then there is the recruitment, vetting and training process, prerequisites if one is to serve in any meaningful way. This process takes time.

There seems to be very good reasons why a fixed election date should be implemented. The only exception to this rule should be when a government loses the confidence of Parliament, in which case an election would be held immediately and the subsequent election would be held five years later.

The time of year would take into consideration the most suitable conditions for the people. For example, a period when inclement weather is not likely to deter voters, when children are not in school - preferably just after Easter - and not on a weekend or a public holiday.

Going forward, it would make a significant positive change if all elections were held on the same day and that important questions of governance be put to people on that same ballot.

This is not going to be popular in certain quarters. This proposal would seek to remove a significant element of prime ministerial power.

About 40 per cent of our electorate has indicated that they have no faith in our electoral process. Any day those T-shirts turn up empty, we may well see a 20 per cent turnout at the polls. A fixed election date, which removes the power of a prime minister to capriciously play cat and mouse with the Jamaican people, is an urgent necessity. The present system is debilitating and destructive of good government.

- Glenn Tucker is an educator and sociologist. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and glenntucker2011@gmail.com