Mon | Sep 25, 2017

Editorial | Voters hostage to political whim

Published:Tuesday | April 11, 2017 | 4:00 AM

There has been much intrigue about the impending departure of Portia Simpson Miller, up to recently the opposition leader, and Dr Omar Davies, a more than 20-year veteran member of parliament for St Andrew Southern. Mrs Simpson Miller is of even greater vintage, having represented St Andrew South Western for 35 years as MP, not counting the six-year hiatus of 1983-89 when the People's National Party (PNP) boycotted a snap election called by then Prime Minister Edward Seaga.

Both constituencies are rock-solid PNP garrisons, political enclaves whose loyalties have, historically, been reinforced by gangs using bravado and aggression to intimidate opponents. A political culture became entrenched. St Andrew Southern and St Andrew South Western are overwhelmingly bathed in orange, with only a smattering of support for the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) to give the statisticians nominal work. Essentially, the JLP has no chance of winning either seat.

Andrew Holness, Jamaica's head of government, has publicly offered the courtesy to Mrs Simpson Miller, perhaps in deference to her rank as a senior parliamentarian and former prime minister, that he would not seek to delay the holding of a by-election in her constituency for partisan benefit. That assurance might give Mrs Simpson Miller and the PNP the comfort of knowing that St Andrew South Western would not be without representation for a protracted period.

However, no such overture has been made by Mr Holness to Dr Davies, who stepped aside as chairman of the constituency in 2016. Mark Golding, the opposition senator, outjostled Colin Campbell in a hotly contested race and is heir apparent to Dr Davies.

It might be mischievous, but entirely rational, to ponder whether Prime Minister Holness, whose party holds a wafer-thin majority of one seat in the Parliament, will use Machiavellian strategy to manufacture further advantage in legislative matters in the Lower House by not calling a by-election for St Andrew Southern. By doing so, he would be following in the footsteps of prime ministerial predecessors.

As a democracy of nearly 55 years, Jamaica should embrace a more mature approach to governance that does not subject electors to the whim of a prime minister - PNP or JLP. For we suspect that were the shoe on the foot of Dr Peter Phillips, he might be equally eager to manipulate the deficit.

 

BY-ELECTION LEGISLATION

 

Which is why this newspaper recommends that legislation be brought to take the calling of by-elections out of the hands of any one political leader. There is precedent for this.

In municipal jurisdictions, when a seat has been rendered vacant, a by-election becomes automatic within 90 days of the matter being raised in a general council meeting. This happened recently in the St Catherine Municipal Corporation with the March 27 by-election in Greater Portmore North, where Gary Nicholson of the PNP beat the JLP's Ann Lewis. Michael Edwards, the victorious councillor in the November 28, 2016, local government elections, had died on January 6.

The constitutional right to political representation ought not be subject to the capriciousness of a prime minister for electoral one-upmanship. Therefore, we hope that Mr Holness and Dr Phillips, both newly minted in their respective positions as prime minister and opposition leader, respectively, would be so seized of the sanctity of political representation that they would champion a bipartisan effort to make it immune to mercurial cunning. Such a crucial right should not be held hostage to the benevolence of a prime minister.