Minister makes bid to save Constables’ voting rights

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Politicians are due to vote on the Privileges and Procedures Committee’s latest States reform package next month, which would cut the number of Members by three, remove the office of Senator and make major changes to the role of Constable.

However, External Relations Minister Ian Gorst has now called on Members to protect the office of Constable and honour a 2014 referendum result on the topic.

During the 2014 election campaign, a referendum was held on whether Constables should have an automatic right to sit in the States. A total of 24,130 votes were cast with 62% voting to keep the Constables.

Under the PPC’s proposals, Islanders would vote for five or six Deputies across nine districts. Constables would still be allowed to take part in debates but would not be eligible to vote. Constables would also be allowed to stand for one of the newly formed Deputy seats.

Senator Gorst said: ‘The current proposals will not be agreeable either to a majority of States Members, or to the people of Jersey.

‘I have concluded that, without an amendment, the proposition would be lost in its entirety, which would be regrettable.

‘This amendment is based on a simple principle – that the people of Jersey have already provided their views and direction on the the constitution of the States Assembly, and that States Members should respect those views and implement proposals accordingly.’

The Senator has instead proposed maintaining the Constables in the Assembly and instead allowing Islanders to vote for four or five Deputies across nine districts. This would maintain the number of Members in the Assembly at its current rate of 49.

The topic of reform has dogged political discussions for decades but with little progress being made. During the 2018 election, a group of observers from the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association found that the Island’s political system was lacking in several key areas, including voter equity, and criticised the number of uncontested elections.

Senator Gorst has also suggested scrapping plans for a referendum, saying that he does not believe that a ‘third referendum in eight years on the subject of electoral reform is required’. The original PPC proposals included provisions for the changes to be the subject of a yes/no referendum.

Senator Gorst added: ‘It is not my view that the debate on the role of the Constables was settled once and for all in 2013 or 2014. However, I don’t believe it to be unreasonable to take the view that those two referendums, and especially the 2014 referendum, settled the issue for more than just six years.

‘The Assembly cannot keep effectively asking the electorate the same question just because some Members don’t like the answer they get back.’

The proposition is due to be debated on Tuesday 4 February.

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