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The Constitution And Grounds For Postponing A General Election

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Source: Jamaica Gleaner


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THE EDITOR, Madam:

The Constitution allows for the extension of the five-year period that an elected government is allowed to remain in power. This is in one instance only – that is in the event that Jamaica is at war. Section 64 (3) provides that if we are at war, the five-year term of a government can be extended for no more than a year at a time, with an upper limit of two years.

In practical terms, a government may remain in power without being compelled to hold an election for seven years, for reasons of war. Based on the COVID-19 virus and its restrictions on movement, which the prime minister controls, I recommend that the said Section 64 (3) be amended to include, in addition to a state of war, other socially disruptive and natural disasters.

It could read as follows: “At any time while Jamaica is at war, or in a period of public disaster, including earthquake, hurricane disaster, or during an epidemic of such widespread proportion as to justify the restriction of movement and assembly of persons, then Parliament may extend the period of five years for not more than 12 months at a time, but not for more than two years.”

This suggestion is timely and refers specifically to our current COVID-19 pandemic experience. If this virus attacked us in an election year, we would be forced to make the amendment suggested. We should act now to avoid uncertainty, and put in place a legal framework in that the prime minister is empowered to declare the entire island a disaster zone in an election year.

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