Conventions of the Jamaican Parliament on Electoral Matters

In Jamaican democracy the people are sovereign. The elected representatives of the people in Parliament, exercise sovereign authority on behalf of the people. The Electoral Commission, and formerly the EAC, are committees of the Parliament and therefore subordinate to the Parliament. Accordingly, the ECJ cannot dictate to Parliament. The legislation is generated by the political party holding the majority of elected members in the Parliament. At their discretion a Draft Bill or Report may be submitted to a Standing Committee comprised of members of the Government and Opposition of the House of Representative or the Senate or to a Joint Committee comprised of members of both the House and the Senate before consideration and passage by either House or Senate and eventually by both.

Further, any Member of Parliament, House of Senate has the right to submit a Private Member’s Motion, and if this seconded and brought to the floor by the Leader of Government Business, must be debated and voted on. If a Private Members Motion obtains the majority of votes in the House or Senate, then regular order follows in becoming a Draft Bill and finally an Act of Parliament.

The conventions that have been practiced and evolved since the creation of the EAC in 1979 are as follows:

  1. All matters related to change to, or reform of, the Electoral System are referred to the ECJ, formerly the EAC, for consideration and recommendation. Following consideration by the Electoral Body a Report, with recommendations, is submitted to Parliament by EAC/ECJ for deliberation and action. This includes Private Member’s Motions debated in Parliament. In practical terms, this means that on matters related to change to, or reform, of the electoral system neither the party forming the Government nor the party in Opposition will originate any proposal in Parliament for any alterations of the electoral system but does not come from the EAC/ECJ. Where such proposals are made through Private Member’s Motions, Parliament will respect and honor the rights of Members of Parliament but will submit such Motions to the EAC/ECJ for consideration and recommendation.
  2. The Recommendations of Reports to Parliament from the EAC/ECJ, that have the unanimous support of all Members of Electoral Body as attested to by their signatures, are debated and accepted by both House and Senate without change. In practical terms, this convention is that the Leaders of Government Business in the House and Senate and the Leaders of Opposition Business in the House and Senate will ensure that most of their members in the House and the Senate vote in favour of the unanimous Report of the ECJ, and the subsequent Bill submitted to Parliament thereafter. That is to say that while individual elected members of House, and appointed members of the Senate, on both sides of the aisle may dissent and vote against the Report or Bill as is their right to do. However, the acceptance of the Report and the enactment of the subsequent legislation is ensured by the fact that most members of both sides of the aisle vote in favour of the recommendations of the EAC/ECJ. It must be noted that following approval by Parliament the recommendations of the EAC/ECJ are submitted to Cabinet for the issuing of Draft Instructions and is subjected all appropriate stages for drafting legislation prior to being submitted to Parliament as Draft Bills. Each time the ECJ submits a unanimous Report to Parliament this convention is put to the test of continued observance. This is because the ECJ as the subordinate body cannot impose itself recommendations on the sovereign Parliament. Acceptance and approval of ECJ Reports, and their subsequent enactment into law are voluntary actions of the Jamaican Parliament based on this convention
  3. Where the EAC/ECJ cannot reach unanimous agreement on a change to or reform of the electoral system and submits two reports to Parliament, Majority and Minority, the party forming the Government is a liberty to accept and approve any of the two reports and enact its recommendations into law. Since 1979 there has only been a single instance in which the EAC sent Majority and a Minority Report to Parliament on an electoral matter. In that instance, Government members voted in favour of the Minority Report and the recommendations of the Minority Report was subsequently enacted into legislation. This action set the precedent for this Convention.

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