By-election law soon

ECJ says it's far advanced with fixed date proposals to fill vacant seats

Thursday, September 21, 2017

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THE Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ) said yesterday that it is far advanced in proposing changes to the Representation of the People Act to set out in law a prescribed timeframe for the holding of parliamentary by-elections.

“The process of the introduction of legislation to deal with electoral matters is, by convention, within the purview of the Electoral Commission of Jamaica; the commission is also conducting research in the comparative experiences of countries in adopting fixed election dates for national elections,” the ECJ said in a release yesterday.

The announcement by the ECJ comes at a time when tensions are heating up between the governing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and the Opposition People's National Party (PNP) in the anticipated parliamentary by-elections for three constituencies — St Mary South Eastern, St Andrew South Western, and St Andrew Southern.

The main focus is, however, on the marginal St Mary South Eastern seat which became vacant when former PNP Member of Parliament Dr Winston Green died suddenly last month. Green won the seat by only five votes over the PNP's Dr Norman Dunn in the February 2016 General Election.

Councillor for the Norman Gardens Division in Kingston Eastern, Angela Brown Burke was voted in as the PNP's standard-bearer for St Andrew St Western following the retirement of long-standing MP and former Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller. Senator Mark Golding was selected as the PNP's chairman and candidate for the constituency of St Andrew Southern after beating fellow Comrade Colin Campbell in a contentious run-off more than a year ago.

Both these seats — strong enclaves of the PNP — will be easy wins for that party.

Political newcomer Dr Shane Alexis, the new PNP man in St Mary South Eastern, will go up against the JLP's Dunn in what is expected to be a keenly contested battle.

Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips, in an address to his party's annual conference Sunday, criticised the Government for “dragging its feet” on the date for the by-elections, arguing that there should be a fixed date in order to prevent the declaration of the date being used as a political ploy.

“Certain commitments have been given by the Government concerning the naming of the date for the by-elections. The windows for these assurances have closed but we haven't had a date yet. The citizens in these three constituencies deserve representation without delays,” he said.

The Electoral Office of Jamaica will also be preparing for a by-election to fill the Norman Gardens Division, following the recent resignation of Brown Burke who is preparing for her run to serve in the Lower House in St Andrew South Western.

The PNP's Jacqueline Lewis was voted caretaker/candidate for the division in the Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Corporation earlier this month over competitor Racquel Hall. The JLP's Headly Wilson lost the division to Brown Burke in the November 2016 Local Government Elections by more than 2,000 votes.

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