Tue | Dec 5, 2023
Jamaicans want ...


Public says PMs, MPs should only serve twice – poll

Published:Thursday | September 28, 2023 | 7:18 AMKimone Francis/Senior Staff Reporter
Derrick Smith
Ronald Thwaites

An overwhelming majority of Jamaicans believe that term limits must be introduced for prime ministers and members of parliament (MPs), while a significant number believe that elected officials should serve no more than two terms in office.

The findings were tallied in the latest Don Anderson poll, revealing that 77.1 per cent of Jamaicans believe that the number of times a person running the country is allowed to seek re-election should be capped.

In comparison, 18.2 per cent said that there should be no restrictions, while 4.7 per cent said they were not sure or did not have an opinion.

Further, 54.6 per cent of those interested in term limits want the person elected as prime minister to serve no more than two terms, 25.8 per cent would allow a third term, 9.5 per cent said ‘one term only’, 6.8 per cent said ‘more than three terms’, while 3.3 per cent said that they were unsure or did not know.

For members of parliament, 72 per cent of Jamaicans polled want legislation enacted to limit their time in Gordon House. Some 22.8 per cent believe that the current system should remain unchanged, while 5.1 per cent said that they were not sure or formed no opinion.

Of those who called for term limits, 48.2 per cent said MPs should serve for no more than two terms and 30.2 per cent said three terms are sufficient.

One term for MPs was supported by 9.5 per cent of those polled, while 9.2 per cent said they would allow the legislator to serve more than three terms.

Just under three per cent (2.9%) said they were not sure or didn’t have an opinion.

A total of 1,010 Jamaicans of voting age participated in the RJRGLEANER Communications Group-commissioned survey, which has a sampling error of plus or minus three per cent at the 95 per cent confidence level.

Participants from all parishes were interviewed between August 30 and September 14, with approximately 25 per cent being randomly called back as part of fieldwork validation.

The Government did not respond to The Gleaner’s request for comment regarding its current position on term limits, while the Opposition declined comment.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness, in the run-up to the 2016 general election, declared that, if elected, he would introduce legislation for term limits for prime ministers.

Political scientist Dr Jermaine McCalpin believes the issue must be considered as part of the constitutional reform process.

“Term limits happen only in presidential or semi-presidential systems. I don’t know of a parliamentary democracy this side of the world that has term limits built into the Constitution,” he told The Gleaner yesterday.

McCalpin, associate professor and director of African and African-American Studies at New Jersey City University, said legislating this would be a significant departure from the traditional Westminster and Whitehall models where it is accepted that a leader will not lead indefinitely, even if his party remains in power.

He said 77.1 per cent of respondents wanting legislation for term limits indicate that Jamaica’s constitutional reform must be substantive rather than cosmetic or window dressing.

“The will of the people is that the executive should not be there for as long as they desire but rather for as long as the people will allow them, which is two terms,” McCalpin said.

On principle, Ronald Thwaites, a former MP for Kingston Central, believes there should be term limits for legislators in the House of Representatives.

“After a time, you tend to become jaded, and fresh ideas and fresh energy is always better in Government,” said Thwaites, who served as MP between 1989 and 2002, and then from 2007 to 2020.

“I’m hesitant, however, to suggest an absolute rule. There are individuals who are so able that it is best if they are allowed to continue in executing a particular project,” he added, referencing former Education Minister Edwin Allen.

Thwaites, himself a former minister of education, said Allen had a vision to democratise education which could not be done in a statutory two terms.

He also noted that a term may not extend to five years and is, instead, as long as the prime minister wants it to be within five years.

He said provisions should be made for elected officials who are in the middle of a transformative process to not be restricted to only two terms.

“This is especially true because of the divisiveness of our political structure where, if a government changes, very often what happens is that the policies of the previous government are scuttled. If you limit a term, then you are perhaps making it more likely that something that was going to be really helpful gets thwarted,” he said.

He said it is not beyond wisdom to establish a principle that political office, in a representational role or the executive, is not a fiefdom for life. However, he added, there must be circumstances, expressed by the electorate, where two terms could be extended.

Former Cabinet Minister Derrick Smith, who served as MP for St Andrew North Western from 1983-1989 and then 1997 to 2018, is not in favour of term limits for those in the Lower House.

He said they should continue to serve as long as they are in good health, able, capable mentally, and have the full support of their constituents.

“That is my position,” he asserted.

He said, too, that there should be no limits on how long a prime minister stays in office, declaring: “It’s about the people”.

He continued: “It’s about the people indicating what they want in a free and fair election. It is not just for a few intellects to sit down and come to the view that an administration or an individual should not serve any longer.”

He said, where an MP or administration is performing well, the opportunity to continue should be afforded if they have the confidence of the people.

But, for McCalpin, better models of bipartisanship are needed for continuity across administrations.

“I think of the Erskine Sandiford model, former prime minister of Barbados. He did one term but many of the things that he had laid, they are the foundation other executives, not even connected or from his party, continued with those plans.

“It’s not required of political continuity that one party or one executive would need to continue simply for stability purposes. I think, if our political system is advanced in such a way that you have term limits, then it will also make persons not want to stretch out their legacy-building projects. They would want to do this in a more efficient manner if it’s ultimately for the benefit of the country,” he said.