The Impediment of Being a US Citizen
There is a controversy brewing that overseas Jamaicans should be paying close attention to.
Apparently, it is alleged, there are a number of candidates for the JLP and PNP (and maybe others) that have US citizenship in addition to their Jamaican citizenship.
The problem arises because the Jamaican constitution, written as it was in 1962, is quite clear.
What the law says: (from an article in the Gleaner)
Section 41 (2) of the Constitution: No person shall be qualified to be appointed as a senator or elected as a member of the House of Representatives who "is, by virtue of his own act, under any acknowledgement of allegiance, obedience or adherence to a foreign Power or State."
If election officials fail to ensure that the nominated candidate is "qualified to be a member of the House of Representatives," the issue may be taken to Court as a Constitutional motion or as an election petition.
The effect of challenging the nomination in the Supreme Court or Constitutional Court before the election, if successful, would be to render the nomination unconstitutional and void and thereafter, the next candidate would by default win the election.
If challenged in the Election Court successfully after the election, "the poll shall be retaken on such day within a period of twenty-eight days from the date of the declaration".
If dual citizenship were to be renounced after nomination, it would still mean that the candidate would, at the time of nomination, not have been qualified to be a member of the House and therefore that person's nomination would not have been legal.
While I think it is unlikely that an election will be overturned on this basis (as both parties are affected,) the PNP has been trying to introduce it as an "important" issue on this, the eve, of the elections. A case has been presented in the courts asking them to disqualify Darryl Vaz, a JLP candidate.
I think the letter below makes an important point.
LETTER OF THE DAY - Dual citizenship an international trend
published: Friday | August 31, 2007
The Editor, Sir:
LIKE SO many other countries in the global village, Jamaica recognises and accepts the concept of dual nationality for its citizens. In our case, the benefits are significant, not least of which are the huge remittances coming from those living abroad; and when it comes to the dual citizen taking part in parliamentary elections, the trend today is for greater liberalism and flexibility in this arrangement. In fact, any country seeking to deliberately deprive its dual citizens of electoral rights would appear to be stepping in the wrong direction.
Canada's John Turner, who in 1984 succeeded Pierre Trudeau as Prime Minister, retained his United Kingdom citizenship while in office, and still does. Likewise, Stephane Dion, the present head of the Liberal Party of Canada and Leader of the Opposition, has retained his French citizenship without being put under pressure. He has said that he will renounce the French connection if it tends to hamper his party's prospects in future elections; but so far there is no big outcry.
The United States (U.S.), often accused of being ultra-nationalistic, appears to be taking a much more liberal view than the People's National Party in Jamaica. While Americans seldom seek dual citizenship in other countries, there is no law in the U.S. that prevents an American citizen from having a passport from another country. Nor was there any uproar when Arnold Schwarzenegger became Governor of California without renouncing his Austrian citizenship. The U.S. made no fuss when one of its citizens became President of Lithuania in 1997, and it seemed routine when Madeline Albright, the former foreign secretary, was invited to run for the presidency of her native Czechoslovakia. She declined, but not because of any conflict of nationality.
When Michaëlle Jean was appointed Governor-General of Canada she had already given up her Haitian nationality. However, she remained French by being married to a Frenchman an French civil code forbids citizens holding government positions in a foreign country, France announced that it would not enforce the law against her. Nevertheless, to avoid possible controversy, she voluntarily renounced French citizenship two days before taking office as head of state and commander-in-chief of the Canadian forces.
The British who supervised the writing of the Jamaican Constitution are equally accommodating. The Leader of their House of Lords is Baroness Amos, a Guyanese. Jamaican Lord Morris also sits in the British Upper House. I haven't heard of anyone demanding that they relinquish citizenship in the land of their birth. This I regard as enlightened governance, more to be accepted than covered-up corruption.
Several other countries are following this path and moving away from the old emphasis on insularity. They are, of course, mindful of the threat of terrorism, but fully aware of the advantages to be gained in identifying with progressive globalisation and international cooperation. It would be a pity if Jamaica as a country should announce to the world that its head is firmly planted in the self-centred sands of times past.
I am, etc.,
While this all may be election talk, I cannot imagine that it is in the long-term interest of either party to try to win the election by overturning seats in this manner. In other words, is it a good idea to use the courts to change the government, when what is at issue is US citizenship? I remember past surveys showing that over 80% of Jamaicans wished they could migrate to a developed country -- US citizenship remains for many (maybe too many) a lifelong goal. Ae we going to penalize the "lucky few" and in so doing perhaps overturn an election?
I also can't see that it's a good idea to to send the message to overseas Jamaicans who gain citizenship in another country that they are unwelcome to join the political process here in Jamaica. The truth is, we need more involvement by Jamaicans abroad, not less. We should be looking for ways to expand their participation, not limit it. As Ken Jones mentions above, the fact that the law is on the books is one thing, but I think everyone would agree that we would all benefit from it being set aside, or at least not enforced.
If we recognize dual citizenship, shouldn't we allow the same rights to the dual citizen that we do to a single-country citizen?
And, shouldn't we be encouraging Jamaicans in the diaspora to seek citizenship in their adopted countries, and not penalize them?
So far, I have not heard anything out of overseas Jamaicans on this matter, and seeing as they are, as a group, responsible for keeping the Jamaican economy afloat with their remittances, I am a bit surprised.