Cablegate: Jamaica: Supreme Court Orders Third by-Election in Continuing
DE RUEHKG #0611/01 2291349
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 171349Z AUG 09
FM AMEMBASSY KINGSTON
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7938
INFO RUCNCOM/EC CARICOM COLLECTIVE
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON 0594
RUEHOT/AMEMBASSY OTTAWA 2403
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 KINGSTON 000611
STATE FOR WHA/CAR (DHOFFMANN) (BALVARADO) (VDEPIRRO) (WSMITH)
WHA/EPSC (MROONEY) (FCORNEILLE)
SANTO DOMINGO FOR FCS AND FAS
TREASURY FOR ERIN NEPHEW
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV ECON SOCI PREL CASC CPAS JM XL
SUBJECT: JAMAICA: SUPREME COURT ORDERS THIRD BY-ELECTION IN CONTINUING
NATIONALITY DRAMA; HOWEVER, THE OPPOSITION PARTY WILL NOT CONTEST
REF: A. KINGSTON 232
B. KINGSTON 315
C. KINGSTON 405
D. KINGSTON 436
F. KINGSTON 490
G. KINGSTON 601
1. (U) On August 12, Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Hibbert:
-- ruled that Michael Stern of the ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP),
the Member of Parliament (MP) representing North West Clarendon parish, had been improperly nominated for the September 2007 general election because he had then held dual Jamaican-U.S. citizenship;
-- ordered a new by-election in the constituency.
The decision is consistent with previous rulings that forced
by-elections in West Portland and North East St. Catherine earlier in the year, both of which resulted in electoral landQides by the incumbent JLP MPs (Reftels A,
2. (U) In response, Prime Minister (PM) Bruce Golding called for party
nominations to take place by August 19, with the by-election to be held September 4. Within hours however, leaders of the opposition People's National Party (PNP) announced that they would not contest the by-election. Although the PNP had initiated the long-running legal melodrama by challenging four victorious JLP candidates following the 2007 general elections, the party has fared poorly in each of the by-elections and appeared poised to lose again in North West Clarendon. The continuing controversy has deepened longstanding
divisions within the PNP, drained the party of funds, and raised
questions about PNP President and former PM Portia Simpson Miller's (PSM) leadership.
3. (U) The ruling comes in the aftermath of JLP by-election victories
by Daryl Vaz in West Portland in March and Gregory Mair in North East St. Catherine in June. As the by-election defeats mounted, internecine divisions within the PNP over electoral strategy and internal doubts over the leadership of PSM became increasingly public (Reftels A, F).
4. (U) With the PNP choosing to sit out the by-election, Stern, who has
now renounced U.S. citizenship, will be renominated and re-elected without opposition, thus restoring the narrow 32 to 28 seat JLP majority in Parliament. (NOTE: Although minor party candidacies are not uncommon in Jamaican politics when major parties choose not to contest elections, they are unlikely to be successful. END NOTE).
A "Buy" Election?
5. (U) In explaining the decision not to contest the by-election,
Richard Azan, the PNP candidate Stern defeated in 2007 who had filed the challenge, noted that "[t]he country is going through too much difficulties now," although he also implied that government spending in the constituency rendered the contest a "buy election," echoing allegations of improper government spending in the North East St. Catherine by-election in June (Reftel F). Nevertheless, the PNP claimed a moral victory, affirming in a statement that
KINGSTON 00000611 002 OF 003
"[o]ur intention has always been that the integrity of the membership
of the Parliament should be beyond question."
Deal or No Deal
5. (U) Frustrated by the PNP's legal challenges and the slow pace of
successive court rulings that have contributed to the Government of
Jamaica's (GOJ) political paralysis and uncertainty, PM Golding has threatened to bring similar dual nationality charges against two sitting PNP MPs(Reftel E).
Rumors have been rampant in recent weeks that the PNP -- short of
funds, desperate to avoid additional demoralizing by-election defeats, and concerned that the by-elections would be seen by the public as a wasteful extravagance during a period of fiscal crisis -- was close to a deal with the JLP in which both parties would agree not to contest any future court-ordered by-elections, thereby freezing the electoral status quo ante. However, negotiations have reportedly broken down over the issue of legal fees for the PNP attorneys handling the challenges.
Having one's cake and eating it too...
6. (SBU) Meanwhile, the JLP is proceeding with its own dual nationality challenges against two sitting PNP MPs, apparently putting some members of the opposition in a quandary. One PNP MP representing South Central St. Catherine, visited Embassy Kingston on July 31 to renounce U.S. citizenship, only to withdraw the renunciation four days later. Nevertheless, over a week later the Jamaica Gleaner published an article on the MP's renunciation
with no mention of its withdrawal, suggesting that the MP intends to leave the public impression of having renounced U.S. citizenship.
COMMENT AND ANALYSIS
11. (U) The decision not to contest the North West Clarendon
by-election would appear to reflect a growing awareness within the PNP that what had once seemed a clever means of regaining, through the courts, the political power lost at the ballot box, has proved a strategic dead end and a public relations disaster for PSM and her allies. Faced with criticism of her party leadership both internally and externally, it would seem that PSM has chosen to reassess and to focus her efforts on rebuilding support within the party. Although the PNP remains a party in disarray and seemingly without direction, the recognition that its current course was untenable would seem to indicate that the leadership is at least finally aware of the need for a new political strategy if the party is to return to power in the next general election, which must be held before September, 2012.
12. (U) Meanwhile, with the PNP now likely to sit out any by-election
resulting from the single remaining dual nationality case, the JLP's
KINGSTON 00000611 003 OF 003
tenuous parliamentary majority would appear secure until the next general election. In fact, should PM Golding follow through on his threat to challenge the electoral credentials of two sitting PNP MPs, there is an outside chance that the JLP might even strengthen its majority. Relative political stability and predictability might bolster the political will within the GOJ to address the nation's myriad economic problems (Reftel B, C) and provide PM Golding with the political maneuvering room he needs to reshuffle his Cabinet and institute
much-needed administrative personnel changes (Reftel G). END COMMENT AND ANALYSIS.