|27th November 2020
NINE CHIEF PLEAS SEATS ARE UP FOR ELECTION - ONLY THREE NOMINATIONS RECEIVED TO DATE
In less than three weeks the people of Sark go to the polls for their latest biannual general election. Unlike most other self-regulating jurisdictions, Sark does not hold general elections where the entire House stands down, leaving the field clear for a clean sweep of new and old would-be members of parliament to battle it out for the right to govern. Instead, every two years, only nine of the 18 seats in Chief Pleas are contested and replenished.
In December 2018, thanks in no small part to the campaign waged by this publication urging Islanders to ‘stand up and make a difference’, Sark held its first fully contested general election since December 2012. Attempts to hold contested general elections in December 2014 and December 2016 failed due to a lack of candidates willing to come forward. The net result has been that Sark has, for many years, been governed by unelected would-be politicians who have not faced the electorate, who have not received a single vote via the ballot box, and who hold no mandate from the people of Sark to govern on their behalf.
For many years the entire membership of Chief Pleas sat unelected. This resulted in intense reputational damage to Sark on the world stage. Sark is a self-governing, autonomous jurisdiction whose people vehemently defend their independence and their right to self-determination. Yet they appear to struggle to clear the lowest of democratic bars, that of finding enough candidates to hold fully contested general elections.
As we approach 16th December 2020, we have more unelected Chief Pleas members than elected. In a parliament of 18 seats, only seven members have faced the electorate, have received votes via the ballot box and hold a mandate from the people of Sark to govern on their behalf.
This is clearly unsustainable. No self-regulating jurisdiction can escape accusations of being an affront to democracy when only 40% of its legislature have a mandate from the people to govern on their behalf. Understandably, all eyes are on the general election on 16th December 2020, but, for now, a far more important date in Islanders’ calendars must be mid-day on 4th December 2020. It is then that nominations for this year’s general election close, and it is then when we will find out if we have enough candidates to hold the second fully contested Sark general election in as many years.
Of the current unmandated members of Chief Pleas members whose term of office is coming to an end, three are rumoured not to be standing: Christopher Nightingale, Samuel La Trobe-Bateman and Anthony Ventress. Sandra Williams has declared her candidacy, Alan Blythe, Paul Williams and Frank Makepeace have yet to declare whether or not they are standing.
Natalie Craik and Nichola McHugh are guaranteed a further two years in office, having made the decision to stand in a by-election earlier this year that, once again, failed to attract enough candidates for a fully contested election. If we are successful in attracting enough candidates for a fully contested general election in three weeks’ time, Craik and McHugh will find themselves in an unenviable minority of Chief Pleas members who have not faced the electorate, have not received a single vote via the ballot box and who hold no mandate from the people of Sark to govern on their behalf. They will instead face the electorate in December 2022, having by then served a far shorter period in office than the four years of unelected power exercised by Blythe, La Trobe-Bateman, Nightingale, Ventress, Paul Williams and Sandra Williams, or the unelected Frank Makepeace whose term of office only commenced in June 2019.
If Chief Pleas has survived year after year of being a composite of unelected and democratically elected members, it will survive the presence of these two young women for a little longer, even if after 16th December 2020, the rest of the assembly is fully elected and can legitimately claim to have a mandate from the people of Sark to govern. Since entering the House no one would dispute that both have made a meaningful contribution to open, transparent and accountable governance. Both have made valuable, thoughtful and constructive offerings to debate in the chamber. They have not allied themselves to any particular faction of Chief Pleas, choosing instead to carefully research propositions and engage in constructive debate in an objective manner.
A little under two years ago this publication celebrated the success of a fully contested general election and heralded the intake of a raft of new, younger members of Chief Pleas. Seasoned Chief Pleas members Helen Plummer and William Raymond successfully defended their seats. Simon Couldridge, Amanda de Carteret, Christopher Drillot, John Guille and Philip Long, (along with Rodney and Ellen Lalor who have since resigned citing personal reasons), appeared to herald the arrival of a new, vibrant generation of Chief Pleas members. No one, least of all this publication, could have predicted how quickly they would revert to type and overnight become apologists for the ‘old guard’ pursuing polices of divisiveness and entrenchment rather than promoting engagement and inclusion. Whilst this is unpalatable to the majority of Islanders, it is nevertheless the right of each of these democratically elected politicians to take this position.
In the coming seven days, differences such as these must be put aside. The Sark Newspaper calls on any Islander who believes they have what it takes to ‘stand up and make a difference’ to put themselves forward for Decembers’ general election. In less than three weeks’ time, above anything else, Sark must be seen to hold a fully contested general election.