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Keep them out! Diaspora group wants non-Jamaican Commonwealth citizens barred from Parliament

Published:Friday | January 29, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Edmond Campbell, Senior Staff Reporter

The Jamaican diaspora group in Canada wants changes to the Constitution to bar Commonwealth citizens who are not Jamaicans from being eligible to sit in Parliament.

At the same time, representatives from the diaspora have argued against giving Jamaicans overseas voting rights to elect a government in Jamaica.

At present, the Constitution allows Commonwealth citizens who reside in Jamaica for a year to run for a seat in the nation's Parliament.

Sharon Ffolkes Abrahams, a member of the Jamaican Diaspora Canada Foundation, said her group was not in favour of a non-Jamaican who was a Commonwealth citizen holding office in the Jamaican Parliament.

"We believe that the right to hold office in a Jamaican Parliament should be amended and narrowed to allow eligibility only for those who hold dual citizenship in Jamaica and another Commonwealth nation," she said.

David Mullings, from the US diaspora group took the proposal a bit further. He said the Constitution should be amended to prevent any Jamaican with dual citizenship in a Commonwealth country to be ineligible to hold a parliamentary seat.

Swearing of allegiance

The diaspora representatives were making submissions to a joint select committee reviewing diaspora affairs.

Turning to the swearing of allegiance by a Jamaican to a foreign power other than a Commonwealth nation, Ffolkes Abrahams said such a person should be disqualified from being a member of parliament.

Patrick Beckford, another member of the diaspora representing the United States Northeast, said his group felt strongly about the disqualification of Jamaicans who had dual citizenship from Parliament.

He said a Jamaican with dual citizenship in the United States could be called by the US government in the event of war.

"That is one of the most important reasons why I think we should be cautious on the side of Jamaica, you can't have it both ways."

The proposal to grant voting rights to Jamaicans overseas did not receive support from any of the diaspora groups.

Ffolkes Abrahams expressed reservations on this recommendation, noting that if Jamaica offered voting rights to its nationals overseas, this could be the deciding factor in any election in Jamaica.

"We are not in favour of extending the right to vote to non-resident citizens of Jamaica," she insisted.

Beckford said the cost to facilitate voting rights abroad would also be prohibitive. He also raised concerns about security challenges involved in voting overseas.

The diaspora spokesman in the US told the committee that there would be logistical challenges to register and place Jamaicans and their children of voting age in constituencies.

"Who would be responsible for registration?" he asked.