Dr. Shane Alexis, PNP candidate for the upcoming by-election in St. Mary SE, has found himself in a firestorm over his citizenship. It’s on public record that he was born in Canada, and is a citizen of that country. According to his testimonies, yesterday, on RJR, he was born there while his Jamaican mother was there as a doctor. He came to Jamaica as a child and did much the same as many children in Jamaica, in terms of schooling. He gained his undergraduate degree from UWI, then went on a scholarship to study medicine in Cuba, and has since worked long and hard in Jamaica’s health sector. On that basis, few would think that there are issues about his commitment to Jamaica. However, his actions opened questions about that by the seemingly simple fact that he has chosen to not become a Jamaican citizen. In his answers on why he had not done that, he suggested that it was mainly a matter of time—he said he did not have opportunities to take a day off and stand in line to go through the processes. Sadly, that argument seems a little weak given the amount of ‘days off’ he has taken to be able to campaign, since his selection by the PNP. So, for many people the questions are not complicated:

  • Does Dr. Alexis want to be a Jamaican citizen?
  • If he wants to be a Jamaican citizen, why has he done nothing to get that process started?
  • If PNP officials did not think Dr. Alexis’ citizenship was an issue, why did they think that?
  • If PNP officials thought lack of Jamaican citizenship was an issue, why was the potential candidate not urged to start the process of applying for citizenship as soon as he was selected? (Depending on the countries involved, the process of obtaining another country’s citizenship may or may not be simple, but usually does take time, in the simplest of circumstances, including the need to obtain or confirm documentation from the country of current citizenship.)

But, Dr. Alexis might have compounded his inaction on Jamaican citizenship, because it’s reported that he has a Grenadian passport. So, he stands for election not as a Jamaican citizen, but as a citizen of two other countries, both in The British Commonwealth.

But, let’s be clear. Our Constitution allows Commonwealth citizens to both vote in elections in Jamaica and stand for elected offices in Jamaica. So, Dr. Alexis’ eligibility is not at issue.

But, his situation—being classed as a foreign citizen (even from a friendly, likable and liked Commonwealth partner like Canada), standing for office, and never having sought Jamaican citizenship—opens up potential issues in the eyes of many Jamaicans.

That he does not have Jamaican citizenship was seized upon by the JLP—ironically, by Daryl Vaz, who himself had issues previously about his citizenship and eligibility for a seat in parliament because he was a dual Jamaican-US citizen.

Mr. Vaz did what was not surprising in seizing the moment to seek to weaken the credentials of a political opponent. He pointed to the series of inactions that led to this situation, including not seeking to become a naturalized citizen, with Jamaican mother and Jamaican wife on his side. Vaz says he sees this as a ‘moral’ not a ‘legal’ issue, claiming PNP is being ‘hypocritical’.

Some commented yesterday that this was only brought up after nomination day on October 9. Well, that’s no surprise: it only becomes a matter to throw out there once nominations are in. There would have been little political mileage to gain from raising this while campaigning was going on but Dr. Alexis was not duly nominated. Whether one is a good card player or not, it makes little sense to expose the cards in one’s hand before they need to be played.

PNP officials suggested that they knew about the citizenship situation at the time of Dr. Alexis’ selection but did not see that it was a problem.

The episode raises many more questions than there are answers, at this stage—something not so unfamiliar in Jamaica.

It would be naive to think that some would not see opportunities for mischief-making in this situation, or to beg questions about how past actions can be re-interpreted, in light of certain facts. For instance, Dr. Alexis’ choice of red, instead of orange, can look odd, given that the national flag of the country whose citizenship he carries is also red. That red is also a colour of choice for PNP may or may not seem relevant to some.

Personally, I think it was mightily ironic that Jamaica’s by-election nomination day, October 9, was also Canada’s Thanksgiving Day.

That nobody thought that would make a few people look like turkeys tells me that I am doing well to stay far from politics, if the lights of oncoming trains are thought to be those on Santa’s sleigh bringing presents. 🙂

All of this may be nothing more than a storm in a teacup—and the puns that may follow because PNP decide to dub its candidate ‘Sugar’ are too many to resist. Those who want to sir things up can go ahead, at least for the customary nine-days of wonderment.

Some, like me, will wonder whether those running political campaigns have their eyes on the right moving pieces.

Of course, Dr. Alexis could announce today that he has started the process of becoming a Jamaican citizen. Then, he could be made to look like a political opportunist, who’s only taking such a step to try to bolster a weakening position. Rock and a hard place?

It’s all well and good for Dr. Alexis to argue for a change of Jamaican politics:

But, we’re not there, yet. In light of that, forewarned is forearmed. Take care of business! Don’t be surprised by the obvious, eh.

Some people have started to criticize parliamentarians for not having resolved various citizenship issues that have arisen over who can or cannot stand for political office. As I wrote last week, when talking about revealed preferences, this has clearly not been a priority for the government of the day. One can speculate about why. Reasons that seem obvious to me include the not trivial concern about what ‘resolving’ certain citizenship issues may mean for possible ideas for expanding the role of the diaspora. Seen with that is mind, certain issues become more complicated as we considered who may be seen as a Jamaican, including how many generations removed may be acceptable to those Jamaicans living on the island and those Jamaicans and their offspring living overseas.