Jamaica diaspora vote revived

Minister of Foreign Affairs, Kamina Johnson-Smith

New Jamaican Foreign Affairs minister to pursue voting power for Diaspora

Members of the Jamaica Diaspora may finally get to vote in general elections, if a new initiative launched by new Minister of Foreign Affairs, Kamina Johnson-Smith, is successful. Minister Johnson-Smith has ordered embassies and missions in select countries to, “as a matter of urgency,” examine models used by other nations to incorporate Diaspora votes. Following consultations, plans will be placed before parliament for approval.

“I know that Jamaicans in the diaspora are passionate about their homeland and maintain a key interest in issues of national importance,” said Johnson-Smith, speaking at the recent Advancement in Education Summit. “In this regard, many of you have indicated a desire to be involved more actively in the political process, particularly in our democratic electoral system.”

Johnson-Smith said the Government would explore the best practices of countries like India, Mexico, France, Israel and Ireland, which have successfully facilitated diaspora voting, and is committed to exploring options “for giving the Jamaica diaspora a stronger voice in the affairs of our nation.”

So far, Jamaica’s Consul General to the Southern U.S., Franz Hall, said he hasn’t been officially informed of the consulate’s involvement in canvassing the views of Jamaicans in the region regarding the Diaspora vote, but will be seeking the required information.

For years, the Diaspora vote has been the subject of strong debate throughout the Diaspora. Last year, after then Opposition Leader Andrew Holness expressed support for the Diaspora vote following an extended tour overseas among the community, many in South Florida called for the vote to be examined further. Keeble Stoddart, a Jamaican attending Florida International University, wrote to the outgoing Minister of Foreign Affairs, suggesting a special Diaspora committee be established to study the pros and cons of the voting issue. However, he said he never received a response, but reacted positively to the new minister’s announcement.

Tomas Rattary, a Nigerian of Jamaican heritage and member of the International Diaspora Engagement Alliance (IDEA), commends the Foreign Affairs ministry’s effort to initiate consultation on the Diaspora vote.

“Jamaicans overseas wanting to actively participate in elections is part of a global Diaspora trend,” said Rattary. “A study conducted by IDEA in 2008 revealed 115 nations allow their Diaspora citizens to vote in their elections. Since then, there have been protests, lawsuits, and online petitions from various Diaspora including Egypt, Malaysia, Kenya, Uganda, Zimbabwe and Hong Kong to vote in their home country elections.”

Rattary also commends the Jamaican government for acting proactively, to seek and analyze the views of the Diaspora, as “these views should be integrated with those of the Jamaican government to make the relevant decision in accordance with the Jamaican constitution.”

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