The political system of Jamaica is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary democracy. In this system, the Monarch who is the Queen of England is the nominal Head of State. The executive Head of State is the Prime Minister. Acting on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, Her Majesty appoints the Governor General to represent the Monarchy. The Governor General exercises powers that include assenting to bills to become laws.
The bicameral parliament has a House of Commons (Lower House) - where 63 Members of Parliament sit; and the Senate (Upper House) where 21 Senators sit. MPs and Senators are appointed for a term of five years or the next parliamentary elections. These elections are constitutionally due every five years. The Senators are recommended for the Governor General to appoint: 13 by the Prime Minister and eight (8) by the Leader of Opposition.
The bicameral House is the Legislature where there is the power to make laws. Bills are debated first in the lower, then upper house. The Jamaican constitution forbids person to serve as senator or elected official once they hold citizenship in a non-commonwealth country.
Two parties dominate Jamaican politics - PNP and JLP. Government has only changed power between these two parties since full adult suffrage. Jamaica citizens of at least 18 years of age, who was resident in Jamaica at the time of voter registration, can vote. A commonwealth national who is 18+ years of age can vote in Jamaica if resident at the time of voter registration and for the preceding 12 months in Jamaica. The website of the Passport Immigration & Citizenship Agency (PICA) has details of who are Commonwealth Nationals.
The political map has several levels of division (see Figure 1). For each of the 250 Parish Council (or Electoral) Divisions, there is a councillor. Councillors are elected for a term of five years to the Parish Council Divisions in a system of Local Government. The PC divisions make up Constituencies, each of which has a MP. MPs and Councillors are expected to collaborate for the good of the people. The people lobby the councillor for municipal services in their local area, and the MP for policies and services at constituency levels. Of course, groups of people can coalesce in self-directed ways for local or national interests. Polling divisions serve for voting administration purposes.
There is a local authority (municipality) based in the parish capital for every parish in Jamaica. The head of the authority is the mayor. Kingston and St. Andrew was amalgamated in 1923 into a single Municipal Unit, i.e., Kingston & St Andrew Corporation (KSAC). St. Catherine is unique to have two mayors in one parish; one for the local authority in Spanish Town and the other in Portmore. The mayor for the municipality (parish council) is elected by the constituent councillors, except for the mayor of Portmore who is elected directly by the people. The councillors who make up the majority for any party in a council usually decide who is mayor.
The services of the authority generally include trade licensing, permit for street advertisement entertainment events, development approvals and building permits, and operating street lights, public parking lots, some roads, cemeteries, markets, infirmaries, poor relief and care for street people.
Kingston, the capital city for Jamaica and inclusive of the KMA, is where you find the seat of Government. The city of Kingston is the location for the Parliament, the Supreme Court, Jamaica House - where there is Office of the Prime Minister and where the Cabinet convenes, head office of Government Ministries, Departments and Agencies, and the office and residence of almost all the Foreign Missions and Consulates.
The Mayor of Kingston represents Kingston and St Andrew (KSA) as a single municipality, i.e., KSAC.
As with other parish councils or municipality, the KSAC provides a range of regulatory and support services. There are 40 PC divisions for KSA including Allman Town, Cassia Park, and Brandon Hill. The website of the Electoral Office of Jamaica (EOJ) has boundary maps of the divisions, and the constituencies they comprise.
Support for a political party varies in Jamaica and KSA in particular such that some areas are called garrison communities. Dr. Charles (2002) described these areas are as counter societies where, with ‘systematic discrimination of scarce resources', political parties mobilize the ‘majorities of loyal, emotional and militant party supporters' in a community to enforce political party support and ‘balkanize against political challenges'. The influence of these communities can be enough to predict the election result of a constituency. Such constituencies in KSA include East and West Kingston, and South and South-Western St Andrew. Several studies, and the 1997 Kerr Commission on Political Tribalism, identify garrison communities with a high level of poverty, power structures that compete with state authority, a political culture that oppresses independence of political thought and enforces party allegiance, and where political party agents play an unusually activist role in distributing state benefits.
There is usually a silent majority in these communities who reject criminality and garrison politics. As a result, there is more diversity nowadays than before in voting returns in some of these communities. For e.g., the PNP/JLP split per 100 votes in West Kingston for 1980 compared to 2011 was 89:11 vis-à-vis 82:18.
The influence of the garrison political culture is limited outside of the garrison communities. Experience and maturity of citizens in political thought, access to a voice through social media and the pressure from media and civil society are factors contributing to the momentum of a pushback against political and social intolerance. Jamaica's good record in press freedom facilitates political tolerance and holding politicians accountable to standards of desirable conduct. These trends open the space for vulnerable groups and people with alternative lifestyles, including the LBGT community, to advocate for rights. As a reflection of political and social consciousness, you will hear on talk radio in Jamaica and see action in the streets of Kingston, interests in such issues as climate change adaptation (CCA) and opprobrium at the spectre of corruption in public officials.
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