Sun | Sep 24, 2017

Gonsalves having life easy despite one-seat parliamentary majority

Published:Wednesday | March 2, 2016 | 3:00 AMGary Spaulding
Gonsalves

AS IS likely to take place in Jamaica under Prime Minister-designate Andrew Holness, the head of government of St Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr Ralph Gonsalves, has, for the past year, held a one-seat majority in Parliament.

The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) that Holness leads secured 32 seats to the People's National Party (PNP) 31 in the February 25 general election.

Similarly, the Unity Labour Party (ULP) that Gonsalves leads won the 2015 general election eight to seven in the 15-seat Parliament.

While Jamaicans are bracing for enthralling times in Gordon House, Gonsalves told The Gleaner that nothing has changed in his Eastern Caribbean islands.

"It is easier here (St Vincent) due to the difference in parliamentary arrangements," said Gonsalves. "I don't govern anyway differently from when I had a larger majority."

He shared that the constitutional apparatus is different in both countries.

"I have a unicameral (one House of Parliament) legislature," he said.

Jamaica operates a bicameral system (two Houses of Parliament - Senate, or Upper House, and the House of Representatives, or Lower House).

Gonsalves explained that, within the single-chamber system in St Vincent, he, as leader of the governing party, is entitled to appoint four senators, and the Opposition, two.

This means that the senators sit alongside the members in the House of Representatives.

"That's an additional majority of two," said Gonsalves. "Additionally, the attorney general, who could be a politician or a public servant, sits in the House."

BALANCING IT OUT

Gonsalves told The Gleaner that he has appointed a public servant, which increases the number of persons sitting on the government benches.

The difference of two additional senators, the attorney general and the one-seat majority in the House, brings the total number to four more than the Opposition has.

"That means that I have a majority of four, rather than a majority of one," he said. "So I could still have two people going overseas and my Parliament functions."

Gonsalves noted that the senators and public service attorney general can vote on "every single thing" that the elected representative can vote on, including money bills.

"The only thing that they can't vote on is a vote of no confidence," he said. "Only the elected representatives can vote in this regard."

This means that, under the constitutional requirements, a vote of no confidence can only succeed with at least eight of the 15 votes.

"So you need an absolute majority of the elected members."

He added: "I am quite comfortable because I also have a majority of the popular votes. It all boils down to different parliamentary arrangements."

In December 2015, Gonsalves managed to retain all eight seats from the previous election while increasing the overall popular vote.

gary.spaulding@gleanerjm.com