Mon | Jul 16, 2018

Editorial | Get going on fixed election date

Published:Wednesday | April 19, 2017 | 12:12 AM

Perhaps our arithmetic is a bit fuzzy, but Prime Minister Andrew Holness had promised to take steps, within his administration's first 100 days in office, to get the wheels moving on legislation to institute a fixed election date. Our dodgy calculator puts Mr Holness administration at 412 days old, but who's counting? Mr Holness has not made any credible moves to make this a reality.

Jamaican general elections are usually held every five years, but our constitutional arrangements endow prime ministers with awesome and ultimate power to summon voters to polling booths at a time of their choosing.

The lead-up to general elections in Jamaica has largely been a circus act, where the prime minister and his/her lieutenants hold the nation in suspense and taunt their political opponents. Both Mr Holness and his immediate predecessor, Portia Simpson Miller, as well as others of more historical vintage, have engaged in this bacchanal of buffoonery, a clownish dare and scare more apt for soca sessions or dancehall parties. Of course, the crowds have their fill of this carnival of charisma and repartee.


Sacrosanct instrument


But we believe that Jamaica's governance construct is too sacrosanct to be made a toy for entertainment of the masses or for the masturbatory pleasure of politicians. Indeed, the calling of general elections has been the personal plaything of prime ministers, a creature of whim and ego to secure partisan political advantage over parliamentary Oppositions.

It is our belief that the status quo undermines the electoral process and calcifies political apathy that has been evident in sharply declining voter turnouts not only in municipal polls but in national parliamentary elections.

A fixed election date has strong merit. It would give a greater level of certitude to the political process and allow for the Electoral Commission of Jamaica and the Electoral Office of Jamaica to better prepare for the holding of the parliamentary vote. And as we have hinted, it would inoculate the political process from undue manipulation for partisan gain for a ruling party.

Critics of fixing Jamaica's election date like to raise the spectre of an unpopular government being given free rein early into a term to pursue reckless or controversial policies and programmes. That would be counter to the very spirit of democracy, they say. But as Theresa May has shown in the United Kingdom's electoral arrangement, there are provisos to a fixed election paradigm that offer room for movement. Though Britain now has a fixed polling date, a snap or irregular vote can be activated if there is a two-thirds majority vote in the House of Commons, similar to our House of Representatives, or if there is a successful vote of no confidence in the Government.

Even if there are other considerations that Jamaica's members of parliament may want to posit as caveats, we do not believe it is beyond the competence or capacity of our elected political representatives to craft a workable hybrid of the British model.

It is imperative that Prime Minister Holness impose his full weight on this project and sway members of the governing party who might be nostalgic about the theatrical delight of entertaining a political audience. If there is opposition in his own ranks, Mr Holness, who lavishes in the status of Jamaica's first post-Independence prime minister, should shoulder the heavy lifting necessary to get this legislation off the ground.