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Stabroek News

So much for Westminster's wisdom
published: Friday | July 6, 2007

Dennie Quill, Contributor

John Junor, former Government minister, had the constitutional reform crowd dancing on the ceiling last week when he echoed their long-standing call for reform as he made his final contribution to the Sectoral Debate in Parliament.

It has all come too late to have any real effect, some say, but coming from that side of the aisle, Mr. Junor's contribution must not be brushed aside. It is replete with significance. Mr. Junor sounded like he has been having fireside chats with Opposition Leader Bruce Golding, who has repeatedly challenged some of the Westminster wisdom which has shaped our politics and has been entrenched in the 1962 constitution.

Memorandum of understanding

This agitation for constitutional reform formed the centrepiece of the platform of the National Democratic Movement, and I believe it also formed part of the memorandum of understanding which saw Mr. Golding's return to the Jamaica Labour Party. I haven't heard anything about that lately, and suspect it is another document gathering dust. I trust that other Members of Parliament will now begin to recognise the urgent need for change to this model.

There is indeed a gulf between those who govern and those who are governed and it needs to be fixed. It can only be fixed if citizens take responsibility for the future shape of our political system.

Will the reopening of this debate add some fuel to the JLP's campaign? Only time will tell.

Prime minister's power

Mr. Junor referred specifically to a prime minister's power to call elections. Apparently, many of his colleagues were not even listening. For only a few days later, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller demonstrated just why he ought to have been so critical of this right of the executive.

As her political colleagues and supporters worked themselves up in a lather of excitement during a campaign meeting, the PNP president made comedy of the upcoming elections and the date.

She said something to the effect that she may even call a mass meeting and get everybody's attention and make no announcement. She and she alone can name the date, a design of the constitution.

Like all prime ministers before her, she has the power to keep the nation gripped in suspense until she is fit and ready. In the meantime, many businesses are in a holding position, awaiting the date. Even the Parliament appears to be in lockdown mode. Look how sparse it has become, no wonder so few heard Mr. Junor's worthwhile contribution.

The constitutional arguments raised by Mr. Junor is all the more significant, coming at a time when the very foundations of the Westminster model are being shaken. Britain's new Prime Minister Gordon Brown has wasted no time in signalling his intention to shake things up in Westminster.

In his first few days at the helm, Mr. Brown has rolled out a catalogue of far-reaching plans to give away prime ministerial powers to the British Parliament, as a way of restoring public confidence in the political system. Among some of the powers Mr. Brown will curtail or abolish is the power to declare war, to dissolve and recall parliament and make key public appointments, such as the Governor of the Bank of England and the Chief of Prisons.

This is what Prime Minister Brown had to say:

Historic Iimportance

"The current movement for constitutional reform is of historic importance. It signals the demand for a decisive shift in the balance of power in Britain, a long overdue transfer of sovereignty from those who govern to those who are governed, from an ancient and indefensible crown sovereignty to a modern popular sovereignty, not just tidying up our constitution but transforming it."

And what is happening in England is being replicated all over the world in a significant movement of people demanding an expansion of the meaning of democracy to include a say by those who are being governed. Representatives are not being replaced, but there is recognition that they do not ever represent all the people. The momentum has been gathering, indeed Mr. Junor has created an opportunity, the question is: who will seize the moment?

Dennie Quill may be reached at

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