16 May, 2009


Who will we be voting for, and why? The people of Anguilla go to the polls sometime in the next few months. A few words on who we will be voting for, and why, are in order. Petty used to do most of the writing and explaining in this area, but since he is Supervisor of Elections, he has been keeping his oar dry. Let us take a first look at how we vote and why in very general terms.

The Anguillian system of representation and government is the Westminster system. This is quite different from the US Presidential system. Most of us are familiar with the US system from looking at TV coverage of the recent elections there. In brief, the US system can be described as follows. The people elect both the Executive and the Legislature. Everyone gets to vote for the President. They also vote for members of the House of Representatives and the Senate. The winner of the contest for President then appoints his cronies and hangers-on to his Cabinet. The checks and balance are that the Senate must approve his appointments to Cabinet. The system was deliberately designed by the first great US statesmen. It was the product of thought and debate, and has lasted for over 200 years.

The Westminster System evolved in England over a period of 900 years. In the days of the British Empire, it was transferred to all the countries ruled by Britain. It continues to live on in the Commonwealth today. This is true even in those countries that are republics which have replaced the Queen by a President. In the Commonwealth, the people elect representatives to a Parliament. The parliamentarians appoint the executive. The people have no say in who becomes Prime Minister or Premier or Chief Minister. After the supervisor of elections has declared which party has won the most seats in parliament, the party leader can expect to become the next chief minister. The party leader goes to the head of state, the president or the monarch, or the governor in our case. The party leader informs the governor that he or she has the control of the parliament. The governor appoints him or her as the chief minister. The chief minister appoints the members of cabinet from among the members of parliament. The executive thus sits in the legislature, and controls it from within.

It is a representative system that was wrung by the people through force and conflict out of the hands of the hereditary kings and nobles who claimed to rule by divine right. Unlike the US system, it was not the product of any thought or planning. To this day, there is no written British Constitution. Much of the practical working of the British Constitution rests on practice and convention. Vitally important constitutional principles are not laid down authoritatively in any statutory document. Academics and politicians argue to this day over what exactly are the basic principles of the British Constitution. As with all such accidental systems, it transfers to other countries very badly. The British Constitution works fairly well in practice in the UK. It has been a disaster for most of the ex-colonies who have adopted it without adequate safeguards.

An essential characteristic of the British Constitution is that it retains the forms of absolute rule, while insisting on democratic rule in practice. The freedoms of the British have been won by them through centuries of conflict, including the execution and forced abdication of kings. No such struggle of the people occurred in the vast majority of the ex-colonies. Coming so recently out of a system of absolute colonial rule, our traditions of democracy and liberty are weak. The result is that the executive branch holds all the strings of power, both formally and informally. There are few, if any, checks and balances. The Westminster system has been described as a dictatorship of the Prime Minister. Absolute rule has been transferred to the Prime Minister and his colleagues. This is so everywhere except in the UK, where the press, parliament and the people ensure practical limits to abuse. Most of the time, anyway.

With no checks and balances in our colonial Constitution, we the people are left with no remedy except to throw them out every five or ten years and hope a new lot will do better.

That is why I will vote APP this coming election. There is no alternative. If my favoured candidate’s party wins, and they do a good job for the first five years, I’ll vote for another five years. If they do a good job for ten years, it will still be time to change them in the end, by voting for a new lot of representatives.

In the absence of a whole raft of checks and balances, it is the only tool we have for insisting on good governance.


  1. > That is why I will vote APP this coming election.

    Whatcha sayin', Don? "Shoot 'em all (at the ballot box...) and let God sort 'em out"?*

    Seems kinda like babies and bathwater, to me. To beat a metaphor like a dead -- oh, never mind...

    [*Apropos of nothing, the origin of that expression is supposed to be a rather, um, enthusiastic, French bishop during the Huguenot Holocaust, though the phrase appeared extensively on various armed forces t-shirts since Vietnam. Does this fall under "no atheists in foxholes", counsellor? Calling in a little artillery on your own position, perhaps? ;-)]

  2. So sorry, my mistake. "Neca eos omnes, Deus suos agnoscet" comes from an Abbot during the 11-century crusade against the *Cathars*, not the Huguenots 500 or or so years later, viz, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B├ęziers .

  3. Interestingly enough, CBC radio on Sunday Edition had a discussion on the Canadian Parliamentary system today. YOu can get the podcast at cbc.ca sunday edition.

  4. I am glad to see that you highlighted the idea of a simple majority. The fact remains that the party that won the most seats is invited to form government. In some cases this pattern is not reflected in the general number of votes. Each electoral system has its challenges. Certainly the first-past-the-post (Westminister) system is riddled with short-comings and needs address at the constitutional level.

  5. Can the speaker of the house have the government ministers who are with holding information from Eddie and all other interested Anguillians ARRESTED or Fined? and i mean ARRESTED OR FINED IN THE HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY until they come clean with the information.


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