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Editorial | Term limits and fixed election dates

Published:Friday | September 22, 2017 | 12:00 AM

Legislative draftsmen are working on fixed-term election dates and term limits for prime ministers in fulfilment of promises made by Prime Minister Andrew Holness.

Under the current parliamentary system, there is a maximum term length of five years. However, the prime minister may call a general election at a time deemed convenient, usually when the ruling party perceives that it could win a new mandate. There is no time limit on the service of a prime minister.

The Jamaican Parliament has been dancing round the idea of term limits since 2010 when then Prime Minister Bruce Golding introduced a bill to limit the term of prime minister to nine years. The then Opposition Leader Portia Simpson Miller flatly rejected the idea.

Yet persons have long been clamouring for meaningful electoral reforms that would include fixed, predictable election dates, term limits for politicians, and strict rules for campaign financing.

Some of the arguments for fixed elections include preventing the prime minister from manipulating events to seize the momentum and call a snap election; avoiding the temptation to undertake populist measures that could later hurt the economy; avoiding a long campaign with opportunities for currying favour; ensuring that the electoral machinery is not placed under pressure; and allowing the security forces time to put their strategies in place.

The American model of representative democracy is often cited for having a fixed election date every four years. However, they have still not set limits for many elected officials, and a few years back, commentators lamented that 36 senators had been in elected office for more than 30 years.




It would be foolhardy to think that by itself, electoral reform can make Government better. Term limits will not guarantee good government if people continue to show apathy to the electoral process or if they replace inept parliamentarians with equally poor choices.

With term limits, there are simply more opportunities for persons to share their talents and ideas for the betterment of the community and the country, generally. Having a fresh pool of persons serving in elected positions offers variety and strength to citizenship.

While we are undertaking reform, there must also be term limits for parliamentarians, which means that there is a predetermined end to any person's ability to keep an elected seat.

There is indeed something to be said about learning a job better over time, and some opponents to term limits argue that there may not be enough time to learn the job and effectively represent the people.

Without term limits, however, the same people may remain in power for decades so that today, the Jamaican Parliament is decorated with octogenarians who are only outnumbered by members of the 70s club. We do not espouse ageist views, but there is grave concern that constituents and constituencies, as well as the legislature, have not been sufficiently impacted.

The new legislation is likely to set rules that require an election to be held within a specified period if a member resigns or dies in office.

The timing of the renewed interest in fixed election dates is important. It comes about when there are currently three seats to be filled in the Parliament - one to death and two to resignation.

We endorse the idea of making positive structural change, such as term limits, to strengthen our democracy, for we believe it may force parliamentarians to deliver results and leave office with a positive legacy.

The real test is to see how soon this bill could be converted into legislative action.