Thinking outside the box and beyond the boundary (Part II)

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An idea for constitutional change to meet the needs of the diaspora in our electoral system.

By Harold E Lovell

(Political leader of the United Progressive Party)

We need to think outside the box and create conditions which will better reflect the true will of the electorate including our citizens who live in the diaspora. We also need to go beyond the geographical boundaries of our physical land mass in defining our constituencies and beyond the mental and psychological boundaries of our traditional concept of the nation of Antigua and Barbuda. The issue of the right to vote as Antiguans and Barbudans should be addressed. The constitution as it is now, confers the right to vote on Commonwealth citizens not on citizens of Antigua and Barbuda directly. Therefore, from a constitutional standpoint, the right to vote in Antigua and Barbuda is as fundamental to a citizen of Australia or New Zealand as it is to a native born Antiguan. This dilutes the cultural, psychological and historical sense of who we are and weakens the important concept of nationhood.

Our sisters and brothers from other Commonwealth Caribbean nations have, since independence, enjoyed the right to vote and this should not be taken away from them. In fact, we should seriously look at extending the franchise and making the qualifications the same for Commonwealth as well as non- Commonwealth Caribbean citizens who reside in Antigua and Barbuda. However,  as part of the process of consolidating and strengthening our national identity we should make the right to vote fundamental to citizens of Antigua and Barbuda,  [1]  while maintaining the statutory right of all Caribbean citizens to vote.  By reserving that special constitutional place and status for citizens of Antigua and Barbuda it will serve as another means of enhancing the bonds of commonality between citizens at home and abroad. 

The diaspora constitutes an enormous human intellectual, technical and financial resource which we have deliberately marginalised and ignored over time. In our Constitution, we have adopted and embraced the notion foisted upon us by the British that if a native born Antiguan acquires dual citizenship, such a person is unfit to be elected to the House of Representatives or nominated to the Senate. Most of our people who take Canadian, US or British citizenship do not do so because they no longer love their country of birth. They do so because of the chance to create a better life with more opportunities for themselves and their families. As if to punish such persons, we “cut our nose to spite our face.”  The time has come for us to change this and review our concept of the diaspora. Our offices overseas should be mandated to compile as far a possible, a register of all Antiguans and Barbudans living in the diaspora.

 We need to break down the barriers of exclusion and find innovative ways to make the diaspora a serious part of our national development agenda. We need a blueprint that includes the diaspora as an integral part of the nation of Antigua and Barbuda. Not just in words, but in the juridical and constitutional  fabric of the nation. Our citizens abroad have demonstrated their love for their native land in myriad ways. In New York alone there are more than twenty-five Antiguan and Barbudan associations committed to giving back in some form or other. We continue to take this amazing fountain of goodwill for granted.

Forging a new relationship with the diaspora means building bridges for more engagement, and constructing a new paradigm for functional cooperation. It means giving Antiguans and Barbudans living abroad a real voice in Parliament. They ought to be able to be elected to the House and be nominated to the Senate. I go even further. They ought to have a constituency that they call their own, as part of the new inclusive relationship.

To achieve this will call for a new thought process and constitutional changes will be required. We will need to remove the clause in the Constitution that prevents persons with dual citizenship from being members of Parliament.[2] This will significantly widen the pool of persons who may wish to serve as Parliamentarians and the nation will be better off for it. To bring about this change, no referendum will be needed. The Constitution may be amended by a two thirds majority of the House of Representatives voting in favour.[3]

We will also need to amend the section of the Constitution that limits the constituency boundaries to the geographical space of Antigua and Barbuda. I propose that two new constituencies should be created, one for North America, including the USA and Canada and the other for Europe including England, Scotland, Wales and the Continent. This change will require a referendum with a two-thirds majority voting in favor. [4]

In these new overseas constituencies, every citizen of Antigua and Barbuda living in North America or Europe would be entitled to be registered and to vote. To make this work we could utilise our embassies, high commissions and consular offices in Toronto, New York, Washington, Miami and London using  modern technology where necessary. Candidates would be drawn from the diaspora and the elected Representatives would be the authentic voices of the diaspora. The annual national budget would include a line item to allow Overseas MPs to attend sittings of Parliament.

These ideas are presented for discussion. The paradigm shift that is proposed is not necessarily new. Consider the Palestinian people and the Jewish people who have an expanded view of the nation state that transcends physical borders. Or, consider the fifteen other countries in the word that have overseas constituencies. These include Algeria, Angola, Cape Verde, Colombia, Croatia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, France, Italy, Macedonia, Mozambique, Portugal, Romania, Tunisia and Lebanon. It works for these countries.

For example, in France, out of a total of 577 constituencies, there are 11 constituencies for French citizens resident overseas, each electing one representative to the National Assembly. These constituencies were created in 2010 by the Constitutional Council of France with the aim of engaging and providing representation for its expatriate residents. These eleven constituencies are in addition to the 27 constituencies for the Overseas Departments. .

Let us think outside the box and beyond our national geographical boundaries.

[1] This constitutional change will require a referendum with a two-thirds majority voting in favour. Antigua and Barbuda Constitution Order 1981. Section 47(5)

[2]  Antigua and Barbuda Constitution Order 1981. Section 30(1)(a) and 39(1)(a)

[3] Antigua and Barbuda Constitution Order 1981. Section 47(2)

[4] Antigua and Barbuda Constitution Order 1981 Section 47(5) Thoughts and views expressed in

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