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OUR CARIBBEAN: Politicking in Jamaica over a two-term PM

Rickey Singh

OUR CARIBBEAN: Politicking in Jamaica over  a two-term PM

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THE PRIME Minister of Jamaica, Bruce Golding, tabled a bill in the House of Representatives earlier this week that places a two-term limit for any head of government there.
Golding’s move is consistent with a package of political initiatives his Jamaica Labour Party had promised in its manifesto for the September 2007 general election in which the People’s National Party (PNP) was defeated by a four-seat majority after controlling state power for an unprecedented four consecutive five-year terms.
As a “fresh face” at the helm of the JLP, long under the control of former prime minister Edward Seaga, Golding has been anxious to avoid any recurrence of one-party dominance, as held by the PNP. Hence, with his party over its mid-term in government, he has introduced legislation to restrict a prime minister to a two-term limit that ends in the ninth year.  
Not surprisingly, opposition leader and former short-term prime minister Portia Simpson-Miller has already declared “war” against the legislation, stressing it was not only anathema to the PNP but to Jamaica’s multiparty political culture of governance.
The legislation, if brought into force, she warned, would deny Jamaicans the right to an individual of their choice continuing as prime minister beyond two terms.
She has further argued that the legislation would also be contrary to the Westminster system of governance where a prime minister is elected by parliament.
Restricting a head of government to two terms is an idea that originated in Guyana in 1999 where political parties and the Guyanese people are haunted by the glaring undemocratic political culture that was foisted on them by Forbes Burnham’s rule as prime minister and president for 21 years and rooted in bizarre examples of rigged elections.
Amid rising expectations of a likely snap general election in 2011– one is constitutionally due by September 2012 – the PNP, which feels that the JLP under Golding’s leadership could be restricted to a one-term administration, is expected to intensify its campaign against term limits legislation for a prime minister.
Sole exception
Term limits for a head of government are totally foreign to the political culture and the history of electoral democracy in our Caribbean Community – with Guyana being the sole exception as a consequence of rigged elections and “party paramountcy” rule by a ‘maximum leader”.
In Trinidad and Tobago, its longest serving prime minister Eric Williams, who held power for 25 years, did so at periodic free and fair elections. Free and fair elections at which citizens freely choose a government under an identifiable leader has been the norm since the dawn of independence in Jamaica in 1962.
No party, no government should rob the electorate in any of our CARICOM countries of the cherished fundamental right to freely choose a government – so long as constitutional periodic elections are always free and fair.
Personally, I hope that Prime Minister Golding reconsiders his move for a nine-year two-term limit for a prime minister. It makes no good sense in our democratic governance system to restrict a head of governent to two terms. The Guyana example remains bizarre and must not be embraced. More later.
 • Rickey Singh is a noted Caribbean journalist.