It is always tempting to follow the path of least resistance. It’s easy. But does not necessarily mean it’s the best.
That’s a message that, even at this late stage, we hope will be grasped by the Electoral Commission and, ultimately, the constituency boundaries committee of Parliament. For this newspaper remains solid in its position that they made a mistake with their, up to now, inexorable push to increase the number of parliamentary constituencies for the next general election.
We understand the logic of what the authorities are attempting to achieve. That is of itself unimpeachable.
Currently, Jamaica has 60 constituencies from which members are elected to the House of Representatives.
The possibility exists, therefore, as has happened twice in recent years in Trinidad and Tobago, that there could be a tie in the number of seats won by the parties in a general election.
Indeed, that, for a time, appeared the most likely outcome of Jamaica’s last general election in 2007 when Prime Minister Bruce Golding’s Jamaica Labour Party edged out the People’s National Party by a mere four seats and a few thousand votes.
There are many people who, not unreasonably, worry about the potential for a constitutional crisis and political instability should there be such a situation in Jamaica.
It is on that basis that the parties are agreed that there should be an odd number of seats in Parliament and have sanctioned the proposal that the maximum number of seats in the Lower House be increased to 65. For the next general election, however, the plan is for 63 constituencies.
So this past week, the Electoral Commission, to which Parliament has delegated the job of the review and delineation of constituency boundaries, agreed that two new seats should be created in St Catherine.
A third is soon to be declared.
The commission’s proposals and recommendations are by convention rubber-stamped by the legislature, a process that has played no small role in the transformation of what used to be a dysfunctional electoral culture.
But in this case, both the EC and Parliament should think again. For, as they say, there are more ways than one to skin a cat. An increase in the number of constituencies is not inevitable to achieve Parliament’s goals.
After all, the Jamaican Constitution sets the lower limit for the number of constituencies at 45 – which, as we have said before, is the number that should be implemented. It makes sense on the basis of economics.
Quality of representation
For example, it will, in this tough fiscal year, cost around $443 million to remunerate parliamentarians – as underpaid as they are.
The Government struggles to find the cash.
The argument that the reduction we suggest would weaken representation is not compelling. The national average of 33,000 can’t be unmanageable, especially with the support of local-government systems and its divisional councillors.
Moreover, reducing the number of MPs by a quarter would free resources that could be used either to top up salaries or for the provision of support services to enhance the quality of representation by MPs.
There would be another plus. With fewer members in the legislature, prime ministers would be forced to bring greater discipline to the construction of their government, eschewing, we hope, the bloated, wasteful administrations that gourmandise public resource.