An opportunity for reform in this by-election squabble


An opportunity for reform in this by-election squabble

Friday, February 07, 2020

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People who keep abreast of current affairs are no longer surprised by politicians' declarations of concern about the cost of national events to taxpayers. That's simply because those expressions of anxiety are selective and driven by self-interest.

That's the case in the current brouhaha between the ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and the Opposition People's National Party (PNP) over the prime minister's announcement of a parliamentary by-election to fill the vacancy in Clarendon South Eastern created by the resignation of Mr Rudyard Spencer this week.

In announcing the by-election for March 2 the prime minister said it was his duty to ensure the proper functioning of the people's Government, which includes keeping the parliamentary majority intact.

However, the PNP, in response, said that while it respects the right of the people of Clarendon South Eastern to have parliamentary representation, it will not follow the JLP into an “unnecessary and wasteful political exercise which will be a carnival of spending State resources, as were the cases in the two previous by-elections”.

No one, of course, is fooled by both arguments, because it is clear that the JLP, sensing that it can retain the seat, was hoping to have the PNP expend its financial and human resources in the by-election, which the governing party could also use as a barometer for the general election which the prime minister has signalled is likely this year.

Also, both parties know fully well that a possible third by-election defeat for the PNP in a mere three years would deeply wound the Opposition party. Thus, the push by the JLP to hold the Clarendon South Eastern by-election, and the decision of the PNP to not contest the poll.

If the roles were reversed, the country would be subjected to the same exercise in politicking.

This issue, though, has refreshed in our mind a position we had advanced in this space a few years ago of staging one election for parliamentary and parish council candidates.

While we accept that the current need triggered by Mr Spencer's resignation is not related to parish council polls, we cannot deny that elections are expensive. If it is at all possible, we should be looking to reduce those costs.

We recall that in 2015 the Electoral Commission of Jamaica needed $4.2 billion to meet its mandate that year. That sum included $2 billion for a voter reverification exercise and $1.2 billion to finance local government elections, which were expected to be held by June that year.

The 2016 General Election cost just over $1 billion, and while that is a lot of money, we maintain that the purpose for which it is used is extremely important as we hold firm to the view that the preservation of our democracy is most vital, and as such we should do all in our power to protect it.

However, we reiterate that there is great merit in the argument for the staging of one election for parliamentary and parish council candidates, as that format would save the country millions of dollars, which could be used to fund other vital services.

Additionally, as we have pointed out before, Jamaicans need to start using elections to vote on issues with which the country has been grappling for years.

It is done in other jurisdictions. There's no reason it cannot be practised here.

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