Wed | Sep 28, 2016

EDITORIAL - Democracy was offended

Published:Sunday | March 14, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Everald Warmington is not someone you instinctively want to defend. He is that kind of fellow.

But people like him are sometimes right, as Mr Warmington clearly was, during that big quarrel in the House of Representatives last Wednesday. It was he who defended a fundamental principle and was on the side of democracy in the face of the tyranny of the multitude.

It is obvious that the arrangement of Jamaica's political parties deferring to the Electoral Commission, as well as the convention of Parliament giving consensus approval to its recommendations, has been largely good for the country. It has helped to transform what used to be a substantially corrupt and violent electoral process into one in which people mostly have faith, as being free and fair.

It was an effort to maintain these conventions that caused the imbroglio in the House last week in which Mr Warmington, the member of parliament (MP) for South West St Catherine, was at the centre. The Electoral Commission has recommended the creation of three new constituencies, two of them in St Catherine, to bring the number of seats in the House to 63, from the current 60. This will mean an uneven number of constituencies, making it mathe-matically impossible to have a tied general election, thus limiting potential constitutional crisis, as was nearly the case in 2007.

Mr Warmington, his involvement in the initial discussions on the restructuring notwithstanding, disagrees with the new configurations of St Catherine. He vigorously declared his dissatisfaction last week and insisted that his opposition be recorded in a vote, as is allowed under the rules. He called for a divide of the House.

Future consensus

Senior members of Mr Warmington's Jamaica Labour Party and the Opposition People's National Party steamrolled the MP's legitimate request and the Speaker, Mr Delroy Chuck, meekly acquiesced. Their contention was that a vote would undermine the convention on how parliament approves recommendations of the Electoral Commission and weaken the ability for future cross-party consensus on the commission's decisions.

We do not agree.

First, nothing that could have happened in the House would have precluded future agreements by party leaders to ensure legislative passage of the commission's recommendations. It is the responsibility of party whips to rally the support of their members prior to a matter reaching the floor of the legislature. Indeed, had there been a vote on Wednesday, the recommendations would have been approved with an overwhelming majority, with probably only Mr Warmington being opposed.

Larger observation

But the larger observation is that democracy is an often hard-to-manage and messy affair. Its great good is not only that it accedes to the will of the majority, but that it provides space to people like Everald Warmington, without attempting to circumscribe their rights or muzzle their voices.

Indeed, if we cannot depend on the legislature to abide by its own rules and to uphold the rights of its members, ordinary folk cannot be certain of the protection of theirs from the arbitrary actions of people with power or being trampled on by the majority.

Mr Warmington, in his protests, didn't go far enough, however. He should have argued, as we have proposed, for the reduction, rather than an increase, in the number of parliamentary seats.

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