Jamaica’s political parties clash on constitutional reform

23rd May 2024

The Andrew Holness Government and the Golding-led opposition Peoples National Party (PNP) are seemingly at an impasse on constitutional reform in Jamaica.

Opposition Leader, Mark Golding, is standing firm, demanding a clear separation from the monarchy and the UK-based Privy Council as part of the nation’s constitutional reform process. Golding has called for the non-negotiable transition to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as Jamaica’s apex court.

Amid the Government’s review of the Constitutional Reform Committee’s final report, Golding’s stance signals potential parliamentary deadlock, as he has threatened to withhold opposition support for changes requiring more than a simple majority vote.

“We’re not in favour of a phased approach to decolonisation. We’re not in favour of having one foot in and one foot out of the King’s yard. We [have to] decide to be in or out. It can’t be neither fish nor fowl. Time come to deal with this matter once and for all,” stressed Golding.

Rejecting a phased approach to decolonisation, Golding advocates for a decisive departure from colonial vestiges. He opposes a referendum which members of the Andrew Holness government are suggesting to have the population decide if to abandon the British Monarch, stressing parliamentary prerogative in constitutional decisions.

Since then, media houses in Jamaica have reported on the contents of the report by the Constitutional Reform Committee (CRC), which was expected to remain confidential until released by the government.

It suggests pivotal reforms including the transition from the British Monarchy to a ceremonial President similar to what now obtains in Barbados. It recommends that the Prime Minister, in consultation with the Opposition Leader, nominates the President, to then be confirmed by Parliament with a two-thirds majority vote.

Qualifications and specifics of the Office of President include Jamaican citizenship, residency, and no allegiance to foreign powers; presidential powers replace those of the Governor-General, with a President’s Council; a seven-year term, renewable once for five years. Immunity from lawsuits and prosecution during office is recommended, while removal from office requires a two-thirds majority vote in Parliament due to incapacity, national security risks, or misconduct.

More controversial suggestions being circulated in public domain include a change where only Jamaican citizens can hold parliamentary positions, a change from the current rule which bars dual citizens, except those whose second citizenship is from a Commonwealth nation from sitting in the Jamaican Parliament.

This recommendation has stirred up controversy after the Opposition Leader suggested that it be reconsidered, prompting questions about whether he possesses dual citizenship.

“I am a born Jamaican and have a Jamaican passport,” said Golding initially before backlash prompted him to speak on rumours that he is also a British citizen. “I am a Jamaican citizen by birth. I am also a UK citizen by descent. I have not renounced my British citizenship as it is not legally necessary for me to do so,” admitted Golding.

“To be the ultimate executive leader of the country, you should have no other citizenship. There should be no question by your citizens that you lead that you have, somehow, split loyalties. That you have a parachute should in case anything goes wrong,” asserted Prime Minister Holness in a television interview, labelling it “untenable” and “incurable”.

The CRC reportedly does not contain any recommendations for an impeachment process against elected officials for fair of political abuse. It does however call for a fixed five-year parliamentary term with the Prime Minister setting the election date within three months is proposed.

The report also contains a proposal to change the composition of the Senate by increasing membership to 27; all appointed by the President with 15 recommended by the Prime Minister; nine by the Opposition Leader; and three at the President’s discretion. This is meant to keep the arrangement where the ruling party can pass Senate measures by a simple or absolute majority.

There are also less controversial recommendations aiming to “Jamaicanise” the constitution by replacing imperial elements with national symbols and preambles, underscoring national unity and pride.

However, with the results of the recently held local government elections considered in some quarters as a shift in the country’s political landscape in favour of the PNP, battle lines have clearly been drawn on the issue of constitutional reform with both parties working to control the narrative heading into the next general election.

This is a lead article from Caribbean Insight, The Caribbean Council’s flagship fortnightly publication. From The Bahamas to French Guiana, each edition consists of country-by-country analysis of the leading news stories of consequence, distilling business and political developments across the Caribbean into a single must-read publication. Please follow the links on the right-hand side of this page to subscribe, or access a free trial.

Photo: jamaica-gleaner.com