State Of Emergency Senate No Vote – Diplomatic Blunder or Government Masterstroke?

The opposition People’s National Party (PNP) has taken a lot of heat after all their senators in the upper house failed to support the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) administration’s intention to extend the State of Public Emergency (SOE) in certain areas into early 2022.

3 of the PNP senators had voted no and the other 5 were absent, although the absentees were at some stage present (1 virtually) in parliament.  

But one thing missing from the subsequent political fallout since the previous Thursday’s vote is the government senators’ handling of the whole voting process. Did the government really want the PNP senators to support the extension or was this a political move to embarrass the Mark Golding-led opposition?

The SOE bill had already passed easily in the lower House of Representatives (MPs) given the huge majority the government enjoys there. But in the senate the government requires at least one vote from the PNP for the bill to proceed.

For some time in parliament whenever opposition senator Lambert Brown rises to make his contribution to any debate, senator Kamina Johnson-Smith, the leader of government business, walks out. Some times Johnson-Smith is followed out by other senators but not all.

(Now, one assumes this brouhaha goes back to the whole backlash over the A.J Nicholson/Johnson-Smith issue- see below)

These constant walk-outs by Johnson-Smith has now got to strange levels. In all the 40+ years I watched parliaments in at least 12 other nations I have never seen kind of behaviour. Yes, parliamentarians have been known to walk out occasionally but not to this unnecessary level.

I raise this issue only because as leader of the government’s legislation business in the senate where you need 1 vote from the PNP why would Johnson-Smith then chose this critical moment to perform another walk out?

Most of the government senators do sit and listen to Brown’s contributions and thus the walk-out lacks credibility for the government leader of the senate.

The one thing about Lambert Brown in the senate is that he is not as partisan as many would have you believe and has been known to vote with the JLP administration on numerous proposed legislations including some previous incarnations of the SOE.

As the Jamaican government’s top diplomat (foreign affairs minister) Johnson-Smith should have swallowed her pride and employed her leadership skills to charm Brown in that moment and sit and listen to his speech. She could have also  spoken to him behind the scenes. By sitting and listening to Brown’s contribution may have moved the voting needle in the government’s direction.

Walking out on such a crucial issue just does not make political sense and that’s why you have to wonder was this just a political chess move to embarrass the PNP ahead of the local government elections in 2022.

If Johnson-Smith was a back bench senator then her walk outs probably would have had such little impact. But as government leader, she has to rise above any ill-feeling towards Brown and front up at all times.

The Jamaican senate is probably the most impressive branch of government. The level of input is certainly of higher standard than their fellow parliamentarians in the lower house.

As for the lower houses of parliament. A week earlier when Johnson-Smith did one of her usual Lammy-Brown-walk-outs, George Wright, her former parliamentarian colleague who is in the lower house was cheered on rapturously by JLP MPs during his contribution to a debate. Wright was kicked out (following public outrage) of the JLP earlier this year over an alleged domestic violence incident caught on fuzzy CCTV.   

Optically it just looks messy in the senate and needs to be resolved.

Useful Sources:

  • Senate Rage: Walkout after Brown labels Johnson Smith hypocrite, liar – Loop Jamaica, 4 July 2021
  • State of Emergency extension blocked after Senate vote – Gleaner, 25 November 2021
  • ‘We need the SOE’ – Gleaner, 28 November 2021
  • Editorial | Tavares-Finson crossed the line – Gleaner, 2 December 2021 

About africanherbsman1967

Sometimes when you cross that bridge, burn that...
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