State Minister for Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Senator Delano Franklyn, has said that although the government has been working to strengthen relations with the Diaspora community through initiatives such as the Diaspora Conference, the issue of affording voting rights to overseas Jamaicans, while they were residing abroad, was “not on the agenda at this time”.
“I believe that it will become a very real issue some time in the future, as we can’t be seeking to deepen and strengthen the linkages with Jamaicans overseas…and not face this particular issue of whether or not they will be able to exercise their franchise from where they are living,” he observed.
Senator Franklyn, who was speaking at yesterday’s (April 19) JIS Think Tank, said that currently, Jamaicans living overseas can exercise their franchise, and many have come home to Jamaica to vote in national elections.
“For them to be able to do so, however, they need to be registered in Jamaica and they need to come home at the appropriate time to ensure that they are re-verified at the addresses, which they would have filled out on the form here in Jamaica,” he said.
He noted that the issue of having overseas nationals vote in their current countries of residence was raised at the first Diaspora Conference and at the time, Director of Elections, Danville Walker outlined to the delegates, the complex nature of the issue, and the challenges it would pose to the Electoral Office of Jamaica (EOJ).
Thus, the State Minister informed that the process of granting voting rights to Jamaicans overseas will have to begin with a comprehensive evaluation of the issue by the EOJ, which would then submit recommendations to the government for consideration.
“It is something, which I believe, should start with the Electoral Office of Jamaica,” Senator Franklyn stated.
He pointed out that there are a number of real issues that must be given “very serious and deep consideration.”
“The first thing is to be able to identify a Jamaican. It might seem trite, but it is an issue. Who is this Jamaican that you will be according this right to exercise his or her franchise from where he or she lives? Is it a Jamaican with a legitimate Jamaican passport? Is it a Jamaican who has a residence in Jamaica?” the Senator reasoned.
Other issues to be considered include voter registration logistics and ascribing votes to the relevant areas, parties and Members of Parliament (MP), said Senator Franklyn. “If that person is given the right to exercise his/her franchise, where in Jamaica will that vote be registered, and for whom? Which MP would have the right to claim that vote?” he asked.
Additionally, consideration must be given to the possibility that a scenario may present itself, where the party that wins the election does so “by virtue of having the majority of the votes from overseas.” This would result in a minority government, he explained.
“Just think of the nightmare for policy decisions. Just think of the nightmare that that particular government would be faced with being a minority government on land but a majority government overseas. Would you, in terms of your thinking as a Government and Cabinet make decisions (and) principally forge policies relating to Jamaicans living overseas? How would you strike a balance?” Senator Franklyn asked.
“As a result of all these complications, and I am not saying for one moment that they are insurmountable, I am just saying that it is not on the agenda now, and if it is to be placed on the agenda, then the appropriate body, the EOJ ought to be accorded the right to study the issue and to make the necessary recommendations,” he concluded.