Making a last attempt to save the Senators

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Senator Ian Gorst has lodged an amendment to a proposition from the Privileges and Procedures Committee designed to enact the changes approved by the in-principle decision, which is due to be debated later this month.

Under Senator Gorst’s amendment the Island’s eight Senatorial seats would be retained and 28 Deputies would be elected in nine newly formed constituencies. The retention of the 12 seats for Constables already forms part of the electoral-reform proposals.

In December the Assembly approved, in principle, wide-ranging changes to the Island’s electoral landscape and composition. The next election is currently due to be held in May 2022. The original proposals retained 49 States Members, including 37 Deputies elected across nine larger voting districts and the 12 Constables.

However, the matter is due to return to the Assembly later this month for final ratification.

And Senator Gorst has now lodged a final attempt to retain the Islandwide mandate, saying he believes that doing so would ‘provide a more balanced, democratic and representative Assembly than would be achieved under the current proposals’.

He said: ‘The office of Senator is the most democratic of all the elected offices in Jersey and offers the greatest level of accountability in that Senators are elected by, and answerable to, every voter (and indeed every individual) in the Island.

‘Senatorial elections provide Islanders with an opportunity to collectively discuss and consider issues of interest to every person in Jersey, not just matters relevant to one parish or district. The Islandwide mandate gives us all a shared, direct and equal influence over the make-up of the States Assembly and, albeit more indirectly, the government. I believe this is positive for engagement in politics and for turnout at elections, and it is my contention that our democracy will be poorer in its absence.’

An amendment to the December reform proposals from Senator Lyndon Farnham which also sought to retain the Senators was defeated by 43 votes to three.

Senator Ian Gorst and Senator Lyndon Farnham. Picture: ROB CURRIE. (30581839)

The topic of electoral reform has been a regular fixture on the States agenda for more than two decades. However, despite dozens of propositions to change the constitution of the Assembly, very little has changed.

This is despite a series of reports – the most recent being from the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association election observers – which criticised the composition of the Assembly. Election observers reviewed the 2018 General Election and found that the Island’s political system was lacking in several key areas, including voter equity. They also criticised the number of uncontested elections.

The initial approval of the proposals brought by PPC in December last year marked the most significant prospect of electoral reform since the Clothier report in 2000 examined the composition of the Assembly and made a series of recommendations.

Senator Gorst’s amendment is similar to proposals originally approved in 2017 when Members were on the verge of agreeing an Assembly comprising eight Senators elected on an Islandwide basis, the 12 parish Constables and 28 Deputies from six new super-constituencies. Despite agreeing the changes in principle then, the proposals were scrapped once again as Members U-turned and voted against the necessary legislative changes at the final hurdle.

Under his latest amendment, Senator Gorst has also proposed reducing the number of Members from 49 to 48.

In the report accompanying his amendment, Senator Gorst added: ‘The loss of the Senators would mean that we all have the number of votes that we can cast at elections reduced, whilst the total number of States Members remains the same. This unnecessarily reduces democracy in Jersey, ironically at a time when we are making moves towards greater fairness in our electoral system. In short, representative democracy in Jersey cannot lose from having a certain proportion of the States Assembly elected in the fairest way possible – from across the Island.’

He added that his amendment represented the ‘final chance to save the office of Senator’.

‘I ask Members to think carefully before abolishing a role which is fair, democratic and has served Jersey and its people well since 1948,’ Senator Gorst added.

‘An Assembly of 48 Members, with eight Senators, 28 Deputies in the new districts and the 12 Constables will still be more equitable whilst retaining the balance in representation which I believe the public have come to value.

‘In finally achieving electoral reform, and a more equal system for our representative democracy, I ask Members not to lose the most representative office of all and thus inadvertently reduce the power of the electorate to directly shape and influence what is, ultimately, their Assembly.’

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