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WATCH: "We should not hide behind a referendum to avoid making this decision"

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Tuesday 23 April 2019

WATCH: "We should not hide behind a referendum to avoid making this decision"


Constables and Senators could be ousted from the States Assembly in a move aimed at making the voting system fairer.

Headed by Deputy Russell Labey, the Privileges and Procedures Committee (PPC) is bringing forward proposals to change the composition of the States Assembly, which will be voted on by politicians next month.

Express outlines the plans...

In brief, what would the new system be?

Under PPC's plans, there would be a total of 46 politicians – all deputies – elected from nine districts.

Video: Members of the PPC - Deputies Russell Labey (Chair), Carina Alves and Scott Wickenden - outline the plans.

Each district would have five or six deputies depending on population size.

What will the new districts look like?

See for yourself...

electionreform2.jpg

Why do the PPC want change?

The PPC, which is responsible for oversight of how the States Assembly runs, say there are four main reasons for their proposals, with human rights underlining all of them.

"The problem before us is a democratic system deemed not fully genuine," say the group, who are striving to achieve:

  • Each elector having the same number of votes;
  • Each vote holding the same value;
  • Constituencies of equal size in terms of population;
  • And a contest for each seat, with the group describing unconstested elections as "the scourge of our current system".

The proposals come in direct response to criticisms levelled at the current system over the years, as it has given rise to some members of the public having a greater 'weight' to their vote and some parishes being 'overrepresented' in the States Assembly by having as many members representing them as other parishes with larger populations.

What would happen to Constables?

The PPC aren't suggesting scrapping the role of Constable altogether - but they do feel they should no longer have an automatic seat in the States Assembly.

They say this is because "the significant population distribution disparity between single parish constituencies renders voter equality unachievable". In other words, they feel it unfair that a parish with a smaller population, like St. Mary, for example, gains an extra representative in the States Assembly through the role of Constable. Meanwhile, the larger parish of St. Helier also has a Constable, but they must represent many more people.

 constables.jpg

Pictured: The current group of Constables in the States Assembly.

The group say that, under their system, Constables could still stand for election as a Deputy, but the two roles would remain distinct.

"The Committee recognises the importance of the role of Connétables in the fabric of Island life, and in no way wishes to see their status within the parishes diminished. Connétables could stand as a Member of the States in addition to their parochial role, if they so wished, but the two roles would be separate," the PPC explain.

What's the problem with Senators?

Technically, nothing. In fact, the PPC note that the Senatorial elections are popular among islanders - most likely because "they provide the Public with an opportunity to influence who becomes (or ceases to be) Chief Minister".

One of the drawbacks is that "the single General Election Day has compromised the office of Senator, experienced sitting Deputies no longer have a ‘free go’ at stepping-up; a major disincentive".

Jersey Royal Court and States Chamber sign

Pictured: Senators would also be slashed from the Assembly under the plans.

As a result of this, and an increasing appetite to simplify the make-up of the States Assembly, they're looking to create just a single category of politician.

"...We did begin to become aware, especially after a consultation with the Council of Ministers, of a growing and pervading opinion amongst Members that if we were losing one of the three current categories – the Connétables – we might as well make the logical jump now to one remaining category, not two," the PPC note.

So there'll be 46 members instead?

Yes - a slight reduction from the current number.

The PPC say that, despite an assumption that the States Assembly is overpopulated, there is, in fact, a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes.

electionreform3.png

Pictured: The new constituencies.

They explain: "...With the current administration and operation, a reduction to 46 is as far as we’re prepared to go without a risk to the level of duties performed at present. At 46, the Executive can remain at 21 and still be comfortably in the minority."

What if population sizes change? Will that affect the constituencies?

Under the plans, there would be a new Boundary Commission to keep an eye on this.

It would be established with independent members, and would be expected to have an annual budget of £10,000.

Is there going to be a referendum?

No - the issue will not be put to the public, but will instead be voted on by States Members.

States_Assembly 850x500

Pictured: The public won't be asked to vote on the idea - only politicians.

As the PPC say: "This Assembly has spent 20 years chasing its tail and refusing to make a definitive decision on this matter. The Public have placed their faith in us to make tough choices on their behalf – we should not hide behind a referendum to avoid making this decision."

I'm getting déjà-vu...

That's not unexpected. The issue of electoral reform has reared its head numerous times over nearly three decades.

It all started with a report by Sir Cecil Clothier, who concluded major changes were needed to make Jersey's electoral system fairer. Since then, there have been more reports and over 100 propositions by States Members seeking reform.

"So why has so little been achieved, when there has clearly been a desire since 2000 to change the composition of the Assembly? Members have plainly found it difficult to compromise; to adjust their position, leading to the damaging perception, however unfair, of stalemate through self-interest," the PPC ask.

This time, they're hoping things will be different, and that concrete changes will finally be made.

The proposals will go to a vote on 4 June.

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Comments

Comments on this story express the views of the commentator only, not Bailiwick Publishing. We are unable to guarantee the accuracy of any of those comments.

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Posted by Gordon Perry on
After recent debacles I have no faith that the States can make tough decisions on my behalf. My constable is the only States member that I can access easily. I have no contact at all with the deputies of my parish. I feel this is yet another retrograde step and will further diminish the quality of the States Assembly.
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