What does it mean to be a citizen?

A number of commentators in various media have focused on the possible legal action against some of the victorious candidates in the recent general election in Jamaica, because of allegations that they might have made pledges of allegiance etc. to foreign powers. This comes from a requirement in the Jamaican Constitution (1962) 40 (2 a), which states that:

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 acknowledgment of allegiance, obedience or adherence to a foreign Power or State;..

This restriction raises a number of interesting questions about what it means to be a Jamaican citizen. Most commentators have seen this as an issue related to dual citizenship, and I do too.

Dual citizenship is recognized by Jamaica. A useful website on dual citizenship (see http://www.constitution-and-rights.com/dual-citizenship.html) gives the following information:

A person who was born outside of Jamaica before August 6, 1962 and whose father or mother would have become a citizen of Jamaica on August 6, 1962 automatically became a Jamaican citizen. See Section 3A of the Jamaican Constitution.

A person who is married to a Jamaican citizen is entitled to be registered as a Jamaican citizen, regardless of his prior citizenship. See Sections 4 and 7 of the Jamaican Constitution.

Every person born in Jamaica after August 5, 1962 is entitled to Jamaican citizenship, regardless of whether he/she is entitled to the citizenship of any other country. See Section 5 of the Jamaican Constitution.

A person born outside of Jamaica after August 5, 1962 is entitled to Jamaican citizenship if his father or mother was born in Jamaica. See Section 6 of the Jamaican Constitution.

Many of the countries to which Jamaicans have emigrated also recognize dual citizenship, namely Canada, the UK, USA. Many Jamaicans who emigrated have done nothing to change their nationality or citizenship from just being Jamaican, even though they have the option for dual citizenship. Many Jamaicans who emigrated took the opportunity to acquire a second citizenship in their host country for a range of reasons. I do not have figures on either group, but it would be interesting to see what the numbers are. Let us simplify by saying that some of those who obtained dual citizenship have also returned to Jamaica and have the right to vote; again, I have no figures for this group. However, if you can vote as a dual citizen, why does the Constitution make the distinction it does when it comes to holding a position as a Senator or in the House of Representatives?

If there is some concern that those with dual citizenship will somehow serve their constituents and country less than those with only Jamaican citizenship, then take away their right to stand for election completely. Why waste time? But if that is the belief, then also do not let those who are dual citizens vote. Returning residents are being sought and more outreach is being made toward the Diaspora; many of both groups may have dual citizenship and have very strong desires to help Jamaica. But for that overtures to them to make sense then the dual citizenship issue needs to be rethought.

There are also Jamaicans who live abroad who have never obtained dual citizenship but have lost their rights to vote in Jamaican elections. When this issue has been brought up, the general impression I have is that politicians in Jamaica do not want to extend the right to vote to all “Jamaicans” outside the country. I can understand partly this resistance, because in many ways it can complicate the election arithmetic, not least by greatly expanding the electorate, but also giving votes to a body of people who largely do not then reside in the country and have to deal with the immediate consequences of their voting behaviour. Other countries that have given the right to overseas voters tend to be much larger, and their overseas population does not tend to be greater that the population within country. Many Caribbean countries, by contrast, have overseas citizens whose numbers could be close to or greater than the home population.

I think the issue of citizenship and eligibility for political office needs to be rethought, not least to reflect some aspects of current realities.

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2 responses to “What does it mean to be a citizen?

  1. Good day! This is my 1st comment here so I just wanted to give a quick shout
    out and tell you I truly enjoy reading through your posts.
    Can you suggest any other blogs/websites/forums that deal with the
    same subjects? Appreciate it!

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