The New Parliament and Representation
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
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
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
Class and Profession
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,
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.
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
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
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
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: email@example.com