The New Parliament and Representation

Robert Buddan



As a member of the UWI community, I should congratulate those who served in teaching and research at UWI and won seats to Parliament in the last general elections – Maxine Henry-Wilson, Peter Phillips, Omar Davis, Paul Robertson and Delroy Chuck. The UWI community also has a presence in the Senate – Trevor Munroe, Anthony Johnson, Floyd Morris and Delano Franklyn. Former Senator, Oswald Harding has been a member of our community as well and regrettably, did not seek reappointment to the Senate. Harding is well-suited to the more civilized form of politics to which we aspire.


The new Parliament opened on November 14 and the UWI has a strong presence in it. But the new Cabinet also has four members (the first four named above), almost one-quarter, who lectured at UWI immediately before entering politics full-time. This is the strongest presence of UWI academics in any new cabinet in Jamaica’s history, especially for those educated in government and economics.


Age and Generation.


The average age of all the elected Members of Parliament is 52. The average is the same for the PNP and JLP members. This extends the tradition of Parliament as an institution of the middle-aged and compensates for the older age of the party leaders. This average is lower than the average for parliamentarians worldwide, which according to a UN Commission report, is 58. The PNP and JLP both have about one-fifth of their members over 60 but the JLP also has more members in their 30’s – three to one- while the PNP has twice more than the JLP in their 40’s.




The composition of the newly elected Parliament also extends the tradition of Parliament as a male-dominated institution with 23 JLP men and 30 men from the PNP side. This means that men make up 88%, and places Jamaica about half-way on a list of 120 parliaments in terms of male/female membership. The Cabinet does have 17% of its members who are female. Since 1989, female MPs have made up between 12% and 14% of the total of elected members. This is low although before this, it was lower.  


Class and Profession


Jamaica’s MPs are higher educated and are higher-income professionals compared to the rest of the population, meaning that, like all parliaments, ours is solidly middle-class.

JLP members are more likely to have a business background compared to PNP members, but both sides are well represented with persons from the higher professions, namely medicine and law. The stronger business background of JLP members is consistent with the pro-business history of the JLP and the PNP membership reflects the attraction of the party to middle class academics and other professionals. For both sides, law and medicine are about equally represented and are more strongly represented than say engineering, accounting, or communications.


Compared to the old days, farmers, teachers and trade unionists are much less represented as the professional background of MPs move up from the lower to the higher middle class professions. A good example is in teaching. Today’s MP is more likely to have been at the level of lecturer than high school teacher. Teachers’ colleges have produced virtually no member of the current parliament. This change reflects the growth of the higher professional section of the middle class and an increasing middle class bias of Parliament. Between the 1940s and about 1980, Jamaica’s professional class had grown by about three times.


One interesting difference is that PNP members are twice more likely to have attended UWI for their degrees or at least for one degree. Law, Medicine and the Social Sciences have produced many of the UWI graduates to politics, especially on the PNP side. PNP members are more likely to come from academic backgrounds and from the professions. A rather low number of all parliamentarians have a background from CAST/UTECH.


Political Experience


MPs on the opposition bench come with some political experience as ministers and junior ministers or from the senate. Whereas about one-third of the JLP members have some past experience as ministers or junior ministers, the PNP has about a half of its group with some such experience. The governing side is obviously stronger in ministerial experience garnered from its previous tenure. Our new Parliament has an incumbency return of 62%, that is, the percentage that retained seats. This compares with 98% in the US mid-term elections of November 2002, and shows that competition for seats in our legislature is stronger than it is in the US Congress. But it shows a high percentage of those with past parliamentary experience.  


Members of both sides also have a history of union and party political work of course. Not enough members, however, seem to have come from the local government system where experience in community affairs is important. This is true for both sides and compares badly with the past. Between 1969 and 1974, notable names, most of whom entered Parliament after serving in local government included: Eric Bell, Eli Matalon, Laurie Sharpe, Pearnell Charles, Douglas Graham, Ralph Brown, Errol Anderson, Roy Barrett, Leon Hosang, Marco Brown, Portia Simpson, and Karlene Kirlew Robertson.




Members of Parliament practice a variety of Christian faiths. Roman Catholics are much more likely to be found on the JLP side, as they are among middle and upper class Jamaicans. But by and large, the two sides mainly belong to Protestant denominations ranging from Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, Seventh Day Adventist, and even the United Church of Jamaica and Grand Cayman. At the same time, the Anglican faith is also represented. These denominations appear to be in rough proportion to that of the population. Probably the strength of religious convictions can help to bridge political divisions, and old school ties (Delroy Chuck and Errol Ennis from KC) might do the same.


Race and Colour


In racial terms, the Parliament is predominantly Afro-Jamaican and Afro-European, this latter being overrepresented. Chinese, Indians and Whites make up less than 10% of the national population and do have a small representation in parliament. Interestingly, most of the Afro-European (Brown) candidates won their seats. In the PNP’s case, 11 out of 13 did and in the JLP’s case, 14 out of 21 did. The PNP had the higher ratio and the JLP had the higher number. In all, 25 out of 34 Brown candidates won, that is, 67% and 56% of all candidates were Brown. Make what you will of that, but in a colour-conscious society this is worth mentioning.




This all means that the Jamaican Parliament is middle-aged, middle class, male-dominated and Brown/Black. This last colour factor reinforces the middle class character of Parliament.


Parliaments represent the people in electoral terms, but in social terms they generally do not. In the industrial democracies, parliaments are middle class institutions like they are everywhere. But these are middle class societies. In developing countries where the middle class is smaller compared to the poorer class, the gap between the social characteristics of parliamentarians and the majority is greater. This is all the more reason why we should find more extra-parliamentary forms of representation to broaden the social base of representation. Parliamentary representation has its class limitations. But after all, this form of politics emerged from the class societies of Europe.


At the same time, the work of politics gives people with social resources like education, economic resources and discretionary time an advantage. Similarly, the work of government requires people with technical skills. Government and politics carry a natural middle class bias to them and this causes tension between the character of the rulers as against the ruled. We must resort to local government, community-based organisations, and trade unions and build community congresses that are closer to the people to reduce this gap. This is the best way for people-centred governance to work.


Robert Buddan is a lecturer in the Department of Government, UWI, Mona: E-mail: