Jamaican gov’t to increase constituencies

KINGSTON, Jamaica: The Senate has passed a bill amending the Constitution that will increase the nation’s maximum number of constituencies from 60 to 65.

Minister of Justice and Leader of Government Business, Senator Dorothy Lightbourne, who piloted the bill, said the nation’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,” she said. “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.”

Based on the current electoral quota of 22,270, the upper limit would be 31,815 and the lower limit 14,140, Lightbourne noted.

“So, the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ) is now seeking to make adjustments,” she said.

The Justice Minister also declared 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, said 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,” he said.

Government senator, Thomas Tavares-Finson, a member of the ECJ, explained that 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,” Finson said.

He also noted that Parish Forum Committees will be established in each parish, comprised of Members of Parliament, councilors, caretakers and other parties recognized 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.

Although 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 consider more than 63 at this stage, based on a bipartisan agreement at the ECJ level. (JIS)

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