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Two-thirds majority ‘will not block reform of the States’

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THE Deputy Chief Minister has lodged a proposition which would require a super-majority of the States Assembly of at least 32 Members to support electoral reform – including replacing the Bailiff with an elected speaker – in order to be approved.

Economic Development Minister Lyndon Farnham

Senator Lyndon Farnham says this would not block reforms, but would force States Members to work together to find answers which could be supported by the required majority.

Constitutional matters, such as the composition of the States, currently require an absolute majority of at least 25 votes regardless of how many Members are in the Chamber at the time of the vote.

However, Senator Farnham believes that proposals which would dramatically alter how Islanders vote or who sits in the States should require the support of two-thirds of Members to avoid the kind of divisive politics which are currently surrounding the UK’s Brexit debates. He added that his proposition was not aimed at any single issue, but to ensure widespread support on constitutional matters.

This, the Economic Development Minister said, would mean Members having to work together to find a compromise that was acceptable to most Members.

He said: ‘We have had many different propositions attempting to change the constitution of the States, from reducing the number of Members, to removing Constables, to removing the Bailiff and replacing him with an elected speaker – all without any coherent approach.

‘With a simple majority there is a real possibility that one of those propositions might get through without fully understanding the ramifications. For example, a few years ago, Members voted to reduce the number of Senators.

‘This proposition would force Members to sit down together and work on some blended ideas and find a compromise that brings sustainable change.’

A proposition from Senator Sam Mézec calling on the Bailiff to be replaced in the States with an elected speaker has already been lodged. The Bailiff would remain as head of the judiciary.

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Senator Mézec said requesting a super-majority could ‘hold the Island back’ from reforming the States.

He said: ‘Jersey’s constitution – what degree of sovereignty the Island has and what powers our state institutions have – is a separate matter to who sits in the Assembly.

‘The powers that the States Assembly has are not affected by what the membership of it is. No matter what constituencies we adopt or what voting system we have, the role that the States Assembly plays in governing the Island and the duties and responsibilities of elected members remain the same.

‘It also strikes me as undemocratic that we can end up with a majority in favour of change, yet end up obeying the minority perspective, because of a technical reason. This will hold the Island back from being able to modernise and improve how we govern the Island.’

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Senator Farnham said the history and tradition of the Island was as important as change and modernisation.

He added: ‘The States Assembly are guardians of the constitution and if we are going to change it is important to do so with proper consideration.

‘I don’t think it is a matter of if we reform, but when and how we do it. I have always been in favour of retaining the dual role but I think realistically we will have to look at it and find a compromise, and this proposition will do that.’

Electoral reform of the States has been a contentious issue for decades, with several reports finding major flaws in the Island’s political composition.

Senator Farnham added that he was ‘in favour of change’ and that many other jurisdictions require a ‘super-majority’ before bringing constitutional changes.

Both Senator Farnham and Senator Mézec’s propositions are due to be debated on Tuesday 30 April.

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