Power to president
Poll: More Jamaicans want an executive head of state than a ceremonial replacement for GG
More Jamaicans have indicated a preference for an executive president over a ceremonial head of state if the country were to transition to a republican form of government. The latest Don Anderson poll has found that 36.1 per cent of the 1,010...
More Jamaicans have indicated a preference for an executive president over a ceremonial head of state if the country were to transition to a republican form of government. The latest Don Anderson poll has found that 36.1 per cent of the 1,010 Jamaicans surveyed want a president with wide powers.
A ceremonial president would enjoy the support of 30.1 per cent of the population. This represents less than the combined impact of the 22 per cent who have no preference and the 11.4 per cent who either did not understand the difference or did not care.
The poll, commissioned by the RJRGLEANER Communications Group, has a margin of error of plus or minus three per cent at the 95 per cent confidence level.
Jamaicans aged 18 years and over were interviewed across all parishes between August 30 and September 14.
Fieldwork was validated by random callbacks to approximately 25 per cent of all persons interviewed.
The findings are an indication that the majority of Jamaicans would have no problem with an arrangement that does not bring radical change to the political system, political commentator Dr Maziki Thame asserted.
Thame said though the executive president received the most votes, 64 per cent of those surveyed either have no preference, are not sufficiently informed or would choose an option that maintains the system as is, with the absence of the British Crown.
She said choosing a ceremonial president along with the prime minister is not different from what currently exists in its effect on democracy, even if it is symbolically important to have a Jamaican head of state.
“It begs the question, why would we make a choice that results in maintaining public costs for a governor general turned president without any effect on democracy?” the senior lecturer at The University of the West Indies, Mona said on Tuesday.
She said the 36.1 per cent opting for an executive presidency perhaps see the opportunity to remove the British Crown from the structure of government as a further opportunity to democratise the country’s political system.
That choice, Thame said, represents a radical shift from the parliamentary model and may be inspired by the separation of powers and checks and balances characteristic of the presidential model.
“It is a significant percentage, even if it isn’t a majority position, especially when taken with the 33.4 per cent who either have no preference or are unaware of the best choice.
“Together, that is 49.5 per cent who are either dissatisfied with our political system, disengaged from or unaware of the implications of either change. The responses could be pointing to underdeveloped understandings of democracy in our society or they have other more pressing matters to deal with,” Thame told The Gleaner.
Indications are that both the Government and Parliamentary Opposition are in favour of a ceremonial president, whose power would be limited in scope and reflective of those reposed in the governor general.
The matter is currently being deliberated on by the Constitutional Reform Committee (CRC), tasked with managing the process.
CRC member Dr Nadeen Spence called the poll findings “interesting”, noting at the same time that there is significant misunderstanding about the role of an executive president and the system in which it functions.
She said, too, that there is also a misunderstanding about the role of a ceremonial president and a lack of knowledge about how Jamaica’s parliamentary system works.
“There is need for much more education about the systems of government and their capacity to deliver what people want,” said Spence.
“When I hear people discussing, for example, the executive president, they discuss the executive president within the context of a parliamentary system. I think Jamaicans have to be engaged further on what systems exist; how different leadership mechanism exist within different systems of democracy.
“Parliamentary democracy is one form of democracy, presidential is another. I don’t hear people saying they don’t want a parliamentary democracy but I hear them saying they want a president,” Spence said.
Steven Golding, president of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), is among Jamaicans pressing for an executive president, arguing that it is pointless to simply replace the governor general with a president.
He said throughout the country’s history, constitutional reform has always gone in the direction of putting more power in the hands of Jamaicans.
He said this process should be no different from constitutional reform where black people were allowed in the national assembly, to the race being allowed to vote by virtue of owning property and from there to adult suffrage and choosing political representatives.
“If we’re going to hand more power to the people, it means that they must have a right to elect their head of state. If given the right to elect their head of state then you cannot disrespect that right by saying you’re giving them the right to elect somebody who has absolutely no executive power. It must be that we have an executive president,” said Golding.