DEFINITION OF CONVENTION
The word convention has several different meanings. It is, therefore, necessary to set out as clearly as possible the sense in which it is used as applied to the Electoral Commission of Jamaica.
The word convention is commonly used to mean an event which is a formal assembly where people of similar political, religious, cultural or other interests meet for the furtherance of their common bond of affiliation. This is not the sense in which the word convention is being used here.
A second very common meaning of convention is a voluntary and explicit accord or agreement between two or more persons or entities with respect to basic principles, procedures, practices, behaviors, or understandings that they commit to following. The entities involved in such conventions may include Governments, professional bodies, political parties, religious bodies, sporting organisations, and other such groups.
The third meaning of convention is that of habitual practices in societies which are considered correct or proper or polite or civilized. Essentially these are codes of conduct and ways of behaving that have evolved our time and are well known to members of those societies but not necessarily to strangers. In this sense, conventions are like norms, mores, gentleman’s agreements and standard practice. The word convention is being used here in the sense of the second and third meanings defined above. They are not codified in laws or backed by constitutions. Often, they are voluntary extensions of laws, the spirit of laws and not their letters.
GENERAL DESCRIPTION OF THE CONVENTIONS OF THE EAC AND ECJ
The overall principle that has informed all Conventions of the EAC/ECJ is that the political party that forms the Government will not use its majority to impose its will and interests on electoral matters and in deciding on constituency boundaries. This overriding principle translates in different ways as they are practiced in conjunction with laws governing the electoral system and boundaries.
The reason and rationale for the creation of the Electoral Advisory Committee in 1979 were to remove the electoral machinery from the almost complete control of the political party in government. This would be accomplished through the establishment of an independent body which would include the representatives of opposition party and members of civil society. The control of the electoral machinery would no longer be a prize of victory at the polls, that is, no longer be part of the winner take all philosophy practiced in some jurisdictions. Put bluntly, the political party in power could not control the electoral machinery to perpetuate itself in government.
Conventions of the Electoral Advisory Committee and its successor the Electoral Commission of Jamaica are voluntary, explicit or implicit, agreements concerning electoral matters between the major political parties with respect to principles, procedures, and practices each will follow when in government and when in opposition. Some conventions were agreed between the parties at the time of the establishment of the EAC in 1979. Other conventions have evolved since 1979 as first the EAC and later the ECJ have encountered issues and responded with agreements on practices that would be followed going forward. These latter conventions have been articulated after the fact and have been refined upon reflection practice. They are not necessarily known to newcomers or outsiders.
The genius of the creators of the Electoral Advisory Committee in 1979 was the combination of structures, laws, and conventions that they initiated to guide and civilize the exercise of political power with respect to the electoral system and by extension to democratic governance of the country. While the structures of the electoral system are well known, and the laws are written and explicit, the same is not true of the conventions. Newcomers and outsiders are unlikely to be familiar with them.