After an extended Christmas respite, I am back and raring to go.
Last week, Jamaicans watched as candidates headed to the various polling centres to be nominated for the February 25 general election.
One consistent feature over the years has been the payment of deposits by the candidates being nominated.
Some have paid with coins, others with $100 bills, or more recently, $500 or $1,000 bills, but they have all paid, from the least to the most fancied candidates.
The more curious of us may have wondered at the legal basis for the payment of these deposits or what, if any, would be the consequences of non-payment, or where they go after they are collected by the returning officers. In today's pre-election instalment of this column, we will provide answers to these questions.
Eligibility for Nomination
Section 23 subsection 5 of the Representation of the People's Act (the act) provides that no nomination paper shall be valid unless:
a) It is accompanied by the consent in writing of the person being nominated, unless the person in question is absent from the constituency, in which case, the absence is to be stated in the nomination sheet, and;
b) A deposit of three thousand dollars is paid by each candidate. Section 23 of the act, therefore, provides the legal basis for the collection of deposits from candidates on nomination day, and makes it clear that in the absence of the required deposit, a candidate could not be legitimately nominated.
Transmission of deposits
Section 24 of the act provides that the full amount of every deposit made under Section 23, subsection five, shall immediately, after it is received, be transmitted by the returning office to the accountant general.
Return of deposits
The act also provides for the return, after the holding of the elections, of each deposit paid but only where that candidate or his/her personal representative is able to establish that the candidate in question polled at least one-eighth of the total number of votes cast at the election or died before the polls closed.
Simply put, while many, if not all, of the JLP and PNP candidates will no doubt receive more than one-eighth of the votes cast in their constituencies, many of the almost 16 candidates fielded by the smaller parties such as the NDM and MGPPP, as well as the 10 independent candidates, stand a high prospect of not being refunded their deposits. Hopefully, no refund will become necessary because of the death of any candidate on election day.
Incidentally, where a candidate dies before the poll closes, the returning officer, after communicating with the chief electoral officer, shall adjourn the election in that constituency to another date not being more than a month later than the date originally fixed.
Withdrawal of candidates
Under the act (Section 25), candidates may withdraw themselves from the election (with the consent of at least two qualified voters from his constituency) up to 168 hours (or 7 days) before the poll opens, but not after.
Where a candidate withdraws under Section 25, for reasons outside of his control, he will also be entitled to a refund of a share of the deposit paid on nomination day.
Chambers -The payment of nomination deposits in other countries
It should be noted that this feature of the payment of a deposit is not unique to Jamaica. In New South Wales, Australia, a deposit of $250 is paid and is forfeited if the candidate secures less than 20 per cent of what is called the "first preference votes".
In Canada, a deposit of $1,000 is paid and can also be reclaimed upon the satisfaction of certain requirements; however, interestingly, those requirements do not include the number of votes secured in the election.
According to Wikipedia, a candidate for election to the United Kingdom Parliament, Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly or Northern Ireland assembly also requires the signed assent of 10 registered electors, plus a deposit of PS500 which is forfeited if the candidate wins less than five per cent of the vote.
In the next instalment of this column, we will continue to look at issues pertaining to the election process currently under way in our 'tropical paradise'.
- Shena Stubbs is an attorney-at-law and legal commentator.
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