Chairman of the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ) Professor Errol Miller says Jamaica can be proud of its electoral system, which has improved significantly since Universal Adult Suffrage in 1944 and continues to advance through the leadership of the ECJ.
“The reform of the country’s electoral process is one of the great accomplishments of the Jamaican people since Independence,” he told JIS News. “We have reached a stage where our electoral process is recognised around the world, and measures we have developed here are being adopted elsewhere. We are called upon to assist many countries in the Caribbean and outside, and our people serve on various committees and are part of various bodies,” he said.
According to Professor Miller, Jamaica adopted from its colonial masters a “flawed electoral process” and from 1944 until 1979 the electoral process was managed ‘colonial style, on a winner take all’ system. “The party in Government sets the laws, conducts the elections, and Parliament itself sets the boundaries of constituencies all to their advantage,” he said.
He credits the changes to the work of parliamentarians and former prime ministers and party leaders Michael Manley and Edward Seaga, “who took the decision that this could not continue and they established the Electoral Advisory Committee (EAC) with responsibilities to protect the electoral process from the direct control of the Government”.
It operated from 1979 to November 2006, when the Senate passed the Electoral Commission Act for the creation of the ECJ — comprised of two commissioners nominated by the prime minister, two by the leader of the Opposition, four commissioners agreed on by both prime minister and leader of the Opposition, and the director of elections appointed unanimously by the eight commissioners.
The ECJ and its predecessor, the (EAC), have been meeting with representatives of political parties, civil society and members of Citizens Action for Free and Fair Elections (CAFFE) after each general and local government election. “We agree on a set of items that will further improve the electoral system,” Professor Miller said, noting that it is best to have these discussions just after an election and “before the contest gets hot again”.
After the general and local government elections of 2007, the commission met three times in 2008, and came up with six items, five of which had to be approved by Parliament. Among the items, was the increase in the upper limit on the number of constituencies into which Jamaica is divided from 60 to 65, which has already been approved by Parliament, and the Constitution has been amended to recognise the change. “The country has grown significantly in population so it was agreed to increase the upper limit from 60 to 65,” said Professor Miller.