23 July, 2007

Members at Large

Constitutional Discussions 11: Members at Large. Section 35 of the Constitution provides for there to be not less than seven elected representatives. It does not fix the number of elected members. The Elections Act provides for seven members. The Act could be amended to provide for any number greater than seven without amending the Constitution. The Constitution does not say how they are to be elected. The Act says they are elected on the first past the post system. This is the classic Westminster-style system of representation. We could change to a system of proportional representation without changing the Constitution.

Members at large are members who are elected by the entire island. They do not represent a particular constituency. Each party puts up a slate of candidates. Those with the most votes are declared to have won a seat in the Assembly. The system became popular in the Leeward Islands when Montserrat was devastated in 1994 by the Soufriere Volcano. People were dispersed throughout the island. The constituency system was thrown into ruins. All their Montserrat candidates have been elected at large since. The Virgin Islands has introduced several members at large into their system. The present Chief Minister, Dr Orlando Smith, is an at large candidate of his party. The system has obvious advantages and disadvantage. A candidate at large is not required to buy the votes of his constituents. It is practically impossible to do so across the entire country. He does not depend on having more cousins in his village than the other candidates to ensure his victory. He runs on merit alone.

The Commission accepted what appeared to be the general consensus among members of the public that there ought to be nine constituency representatives and four members at large. That formula appeared to represent the aspirations of the average Anguillian for an improvement in standards in the Assembly. This was its recommendation at paragraph 76 of its Report. It would mean amending the Elections Act to provide accordingly. Members of the Assembly in their discussions in caucus at the Limestone Bay CafĂ© did not agree. They thought that there should be nine constituencies, but only two members at large. They would reduce the total number of elected members from the Commission’s recommended thirteen to a total of eleven.

That is not in keeping with the hopes of the average thinking Anguillian. Maybe, the Members of the Assembly are superstitious about the number thirteen?

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