Author: Jeevan A. Robinson - MNI Media | Date: 10 April 2018
Is it time for Montserrat to seriously consider Electoral Reform going forward?
Recently, the public was advised that "an Electoral Reform Commission has been established in Montserrat for the purposes of looking at the Electoral framework and to formulate proposals for appropriate reform for the entire system, including voter registration, voter qualification, the ballot paper, constituency and the legal framework of the elections and more."
This Electoral Reform process is very significant. Thus it is imperative that as wide a cross-section of the island's citizenry engage in the discussions to come, and also look to submit their ideas on the best way forward for Montserrat's Electoral System.
As indicated by the Electoral Commission, there are various areas that will be looked at in their considerations towards reform. However, one of the more troubling issues within this entire Electoral Reform mandate has to be that of the one man 9-vote system that is presently in place.
In 2001, due to the onset of social and demographic changes from the mass migration of citizens caused by the Soufriere Hills Volcano's eruption, a new electoral system was introduced on Montserrat with a single nine-member constituency, that saw voters being able to vote for nine candidates with a single vote.
The idea behind this system being introduced had to further do with the fact that a large portion of Montserrat was rendered uninhabitable by the volcano's devastation, thus the villages and communities that previously made the Constituency System of electioneering viable, had to be looked at for review when it was realised that the Southern and Eastern areas of Montserrat were now lost to any form of human habitation for the foreseeable future.
Under the new one man 9-vote system that was instituted, the 2001 elections saw the New People's Liberation Movement (NPLM) emerge victorious claiming 7 of the 9 seats, and Dr John Alfred Osborne once again becoming Chief Minster of Montserrat.
Still under the one man 9-vote system, the 2006 elections resulted in a hung parliament, with The Movement for Change and Prosperity (MCAP), NPLM and the Montserrat Democratic Party (MDP) coming together to form a coalition government, together with one sole independent Member of Parliament. Dr Lowell Lewis was then named Chief Minister of Montserrat.
Continuing with this one man 9-vote system, the 2009 elections were won by the Movement for Change and Prosperity (MCAP). Their victory saw them winning six of the nine Legislative Council seats and Reuben T Meade once again became Chief Minister of Montserrat.
In 2010, Constitutional Reform saw the Montserrat Constitutional Order being adapted into law, thus in 2011 the Legislative Council as it was formerly known was discarded and replaced by what we now have today as the Montserrat Legislative Assembly.
Under this new outlay for Parliamentary proceedings as dictated by the newly adapted Montserrat Constitution Order 2010, Montserrat held elections in September of 2014 still under the one man 9-vote system that saw Donaldson Romeo assuming the Premiership of Montserrat with the PDM party winning 7 of the 9 seats up for contention.
Today, as Montserrat sees itself in a development quandary where many persons are calling actively for more open representation, could it be that the one man 9-vote system has now past its sell by date?
In the new Montserrat that is being developed, it is accepted that the North of the island is where life and property will reside and development respectively. So with this realisation, can it still be reasonable and viable that the island allows its Electoral system to be one where the election process is still under the mode of emergency considerations for daily living? For if we recall, the change to the Electoral System was made to accommodate the immediate changes that struck the island due to the volcano, therefore, fair representation for the people remaining had to be considered seriously.
But today, MNI Media asks the question of what is fair representation in the new Montserrat? For the size of the island that is left, perhaps there is scope to consider moving back to the Constituency form of Representation, or some incarnation of it that suites Montserrat.
This is a discussion that is most certainly required. It will be very interesting to see the comments and views that citizens, and friends of Montserrat share on this crucial matter.
Note: Jeevan A. Robinson is Editor-in-Chief and Head of Business Development at Marketing, News & Information Media - MNI Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org