‘Divide’ splits speaker, Opposition
House Speaker Marisa Dalrymple Philibert has suggested that it is her discretion whether to entertain a divide call on vote-taking in Parliament, arguing that the mechanism only becomes necessary when there is a clear contention.
Dalrymple Philibert, at the start of Parliament on Wednesday, addressed the issue, which had stemmed from sparring between opposition and government members over whether to pass an order to exempt the Montego Bay Perimeter Road Project from the rules of the Public Procurement Act.
During the vote on Tuesday, the Opposition called for a divide, which was entertained by the Speaker, but they were defeated by the overwhelming government majority: 36 in favour, six against, with three abstaining. Sixteen members were missing and George Wright is on a leave of absence.
Dalrymple Philibert said that the mechanism should not be used to disrupt the proceedings of Parliament.
“Whenever the term divide is used, it really denotes uncertainty in the mind of the Speaker as to what the majority position of the House is,” Dalrymple Philibert stated.
Dalrymple Philibert told Anthony Hylton, the leader of opposition business, that the correct procedure in the first instance is to register a yea or nay vote instead of automatically reverting to calling for a divide.
“When you call out and say no, I would then know that there is a problem. But it is still at the Speaker’s discretion. If there is a preponderance of ayes, there is no way that there is a need for a divide,” she argued.
Divide, in addition to being used to slow down the process of lawmaking, has often been used to register the vote of individual members on controversial issues.
Opposition Leader Mark Golding protested the Speaker’s new stance on the issue, arguing that it went against long-standing parliamentary practice.
Dalrymple Philibert agreed that the practice was ingrained in Jamaica’s parliamentary affairs but said it might not necessarily be correct.
“You can only challenge something if there is something to challenge. If you have several ayes over here and you have six or eight over there, where is the challenge?” the Speaker asked.
“What you are articulating there represents the tyranny of the majority,” Golding declared before being interrupted by Leader of Government Business Edmund Bartlett on a point of order.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness accused Golding of wanting to “capture the floor for the newspapers to carry”, labelling Golding’s arguments a “waste of time”.