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Editorial: Good argument for twinned elections

Published:Thursday | August 6, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Dorothy Pine-McLarty can rest assured of the people's appreciation of the fact that the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ), which she chairs, has neither the power nor authority to force its views down the Government's throat. They understand, though, that it has become the practice for Parliament to accept, by consensus, the decisions of the ECJ, on which the major political parties are represented and which usually emerge after significant dialogue.

There are good reasons for this. The process works. And more important, the country has the history of what happened when the electoral process was open to partisan manipulation and trust waned in it. There was the civil war-like violence that accompanied the 1980 general election.

The idea of holding the elections for the national government and those for parish councils on the same day is, of course, a little different. It is not a matter that fundamentally excites debate among Jamaicans. They do not perceive in the current arrangements a fundamental threat to the country's democracy. A case, however, could possibly be made to this end by supporters of local government who may be concerned about the frequent extension of the life of parish councils, seeing it as a cynical manipulation of the political process to partisan ends.

But whatever may be the governance argument, Orrette Fisher, the director of elections, has offered a strong economic case, which should resonate with fiscally challenged Jamaica, for holding the national and local government elections on the same day. He reckons that it could save upwards of J$1 billion each local government election cycle, which, by law, should be every three years, but is hardly ever adhered to. Indeed, the Simpson Miller administration recently amended the law to delay the local government vote, which would have been due by June, by up to 18 months.

Clearly, $1 billion is not to be sneezed at, even it comes in savings every three or four years. It could, for instance, maintain around 3,500 students a year in government primary schools, or patch a fair number of potholes in the country's roads. It would certainly bring greater certainty to the timing of elections - national and local.


Snap elections


At present, national parliamentary elections are constitutionally required to be held every five years after the start of a life of the Parliament. But the prime minister has the power to dissolve the Parliament at any time and call snap elections. When employed, this option is usually to gain political advantage, igniting periodic calls for fixed-date elections, which, on the face of it, would require constitutional amendments underpinned by a referendum.

But it appears quite possible, within the existing constitutional frame for national elections, to twin these with those for local government, once the laws are amended, including to extend the life of a parish council to - as is the case of the national Parliament - five years. This could be done without triggering local government elections in the event of a prime minister utilising his option for a snap national poll, but hopefully be a constraining factor on the partisan manipulations that are all too frequent.

And beyond the predictability, there are potential economic gains by twinning the elections.