JIS News

A Bill to amend the Constitution, to increase the maximum number of constituencies from 60 to 65, was passed in the Senate on Friday (March 27). Minister of Justice and Leader of Government Business, Senator Dorothy Lightbourne, who piloted the Bill, said that the country’s electoral population has grown tremendously, with approximately 1.3 million persons registered to vote.
She informed the Senate that the Constitution speaks to an upper limit and a lower limit, and that no constituency must be more than 50 per cent above the electoral quota and none less than two-thirds of the electoral quota.
“What we have now is that some constituencies are above the quota and some below. What we have are that some constituencies are very close to the upper limit, some have gone above, and some are too close to the lower limit,” she said.
The Minister added that, based on the current electoral quota of 22,270, the upper limit would be 31,815 and the lower limit 14,140.
“So, the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ) is now seeking to make adjustments,” Senator Lightbourne said.
The Justice Minister also noted that there was a need to avoid a “hung parliament” after a General Election, due to the current even number of constituencies.
Leader of Opposition Business, Senator, A.J. Nicholson, stated that the Opposition supports any initiative that is geared towards enhancing the integrity of the electoral system.
“It is in that vein that the Opposition welcomes, encourages and supports the initiative that is contained in this Bill,” Senator Nicholson said.
Government Senator, Thomas Tavares-Finson, a member of the ECJ, explained that currently two constituencies are currently in breach of the upper and the lower limits – St. Andrew North East and St. Ann North East.
He noted that the period of review for constituency boundaries commenced in March, 2008, and will continue to March, 2010.
“While at this time there are only two clear breaches apparent on the November 2008 voters list, a number of parishes are dangerously close to the established limits,” Senator Tavares Finson said.
He also noted that Parish Forum Committees will be established in each parish, comprised of Members of Parliament, Councillors, caretakers and other parties recognised by the ECJ, as well as Parish Boundaries Advisory Committees which will be consulted in the process of the boundary changes.
“Communities affected by the (constituency) boundary changes will be afforded an opportunity to make oral and written submissions to the parish boundaries advisory committee,” Tavares-Finson said.
“I simply want to say that I’m delighted to hear of the arrangements for how the boundaries will be changed,” President of the Senate, Dr. Oswald Harding, remarked.
Even though the Constitution (Constituencies) Amendment Act 2009 was amended to increase the maximum number of constituencies from 60 to 65, the Electoral Commission (EC) will not at this stage consider more than 63, based on a bipartisan agreement at the ECJ level. The Bill was passed in the House of Representatives on Tuesday March 24.
The Senate passed the Electoral Commission (Interim) Act 2006 on October 20, 2006, clearing the way for the creation of the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ). Its responsibility is to protect the electoral process from the immediate direction, influence and control of the Government, which may influence its functioning to the detriment of persons with opposing views who may wish to participate in the process.
In addition to conducting general elections, by-elections or referenda, the Commission is responsible for compiling and maintaining the register of eligible electors; verifying the identity of every eligible elector; approving political parties eligible to receive state funding; and administering electoral funding and financial disclosure requirements.
The Commission comprises four selected members, four nominated members which include two persons nominated by the Prime Minister and two nominated by the Leader of the Opposition and the Director of Elections.