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The change we really need

August 17, 2023

Jamaica's currently uses the Westminster model.
Jamaica's currently uses the Westminster model.

Some time last year the Government of Jamaica announced that it would begin the process of becoming a republic by removing the late Queen Elizabeth II and replacing her with a president.

Since that announcement was made, the passing of The Queen and the accession of King Charles III has served to accelerate the ambitions of the Government to alter the constitution. In order to push this agenda forward it has established the Constitutional Reform Committee (CRC) as the body that will guide the process.

When originally formed, many people were of the opinion that the CRC would be working on a complete overhaul of the constitution. However, it should be clear to everyone by now that the CRC's only aim at the movement is the usurpation of the Crown, but little else will change. I for one was not surprised that this is the angle that the Government is taking, given that this is exactly what Barbados did in 2021, the only difference is that, whereas they rushed it, we seem to be taking our time to mull over all the implications.

This state of affairs has caused ire among some who want a complete overhaul of the constitution; those who make such an argument tend to favour the US-style presidential model. Some even go as far as to make the argument that adopting such a model would make it more "Jamaicanised". This thinking, however, is plainly baseless as one cannot reasonably argue that the form of government we have held since Independence is not really Jamaican but somehow adopting an American form of government is.

Some Jamaicans favour the US-style presidential model.
Some Jamaicans favour the US-style presidential model.

It is clearly a logical fallacy to even suggest such a thing, yet this is exactly what its proponents seem to believe, albeit without evidence. And, in addition, contrary to the propaganda from the American media, the presidential system is actually inferior to the Westminster parliamentary model and comes with a host of problems — from having an inherently divisive head of State who can never be a unifying figure to having a Cabinet that is not accountable to Parliament, and don't even get started on the gridlock that takes place when the executive and legislature are at loggerheads and can't get anything done.

Let us not be fooled by the rhetoric, there is a reason most developed countries opt for parliamentary systems, as seen in cases like Canada, Japan, Australia, and the Nordic countries, whereas the United States is the only First World country that uses the presidential model. Every other country that uses this system has been less successful, simply put, the USA is the exception, not the rule.

Having said this, however, supporters of a Jamaican republic are of the opinion that removing The King and replacing him with a president (be he elected or appointed) will improve governance as, according to them, the current system is not working. The truth is that while they are correct in identifying that a problem exists, their diagnosis and proposed solution is incorrect. If anything is holding our political system back, it is not the monarchy but rather the bipartisan duopoly.

For the last 61 years the head of the House of Windsor has held the sovereign's position in this country; however, the business of government has been done in The King's (formerly The Queen's) name by the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and the People's National Party (PNP), it is they who have alternated in holding the reigns of State power, and replacing the monarch with a president will not change this.

The truth is that they type of republic we adopt will be of little consequence, be it presidential or parliamentary, if the ruling class remains as they are, unchecked and unchallenged. If Jamaica wants to improve its governance, a republic is not the answer; instead, the real solution lies in having a multi-party system that will give the JLP and PNP a run for their money. A multi-party democracy is one that comes with several benefits including:

  • Having a wider base of opinions instead of merely two camps (which are sometimes indistinguishable); It will be much harder for any single party to have an outright majority in Parliament, which would necessitate the formation of coalitions.

  • Coalitions, when formed, would have to work together for the national good instead of partisan interest.

  • It will create a dramatic shift in our political culture, whereby people will be less loyal to political parties and thus break the stranglehold of some Members and Parliament who are far too comfortable in their seats and have little impact in their constituencies.

I am not ignorant of the fact that third parties have been attempted before with not much success, but that is no reason to give up on the idea, especially if it can help enhance democracy, as is seen in many other countries that have multi-party parliamentary systems, such as Germany, New Zealand, and Ireland. The truth is that having such a system would keep the Government in check since in order for coalitions to remain intact all parties in a ruling coalition would need to cooperate for the best interest of the nation.

Others might argue that the best way to keep the Government in line is the development of an Office of President with broad powers to safeguard the constitution. But that begs the question: What need is there to develop presidential powers for such a purpose when it is just as possible to have the royal prerogatives of the governor general serve the same purpose? that is unless, of course, they want to admit that they deliberately made the Crown very weak in order to replace it with a presidency, and if so, this would point to them sabotaging our constitution from the start.

And speaking of sabotage, is it also possible that the JLP and PNP are also fully aware that this suggestion might indeed be the answer we are looking for but have instead chosen to point fingers at the monarchy in order to distract from their own failings over the last 61 years? Let's face it, who has the most to gain from scapegoating the late Queen and the current King? Who has the most to gain from the maintenance of the current duopoly? Who has the most to lose if Jamaica should adopt a more multi-partisan approach to politics? The answer to these questions is clearly the JLP and the PNP. And as for becoming a republic, who has the most to lose if this should happen? Is it the royal family? Not at all. They will lose very little, we, on the other hand, will be the ultimate losers on that score as all we would really be doing is strengthening the duopoly's hold on all the institutions of this country; this is what we should oppose with all our might. The Government as it stands is dangerously overreaching and the last thing we should do is encourage it.

It is on this basis that I posit that the change that Jamaica truly needs is exactly the one that the ruling class does not wish to give us. At the end of the day, what should matter most is not who has what government title but rather how the country is governed. And contrary to the propaganda shoved down our throats, a president is not what this country needs as that would be cosmetic.

What Jamaica needs is to have a more participatory democracy in which multiple parties and multiple viewpoints are heard, this is what will truly alter the state of politics in the country so we can finally fulfil our national destiny before God and all mankind and play our part in advancing the whole human race.

Taken from the Jamaica Observer

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