Many of the details of the proposed constitutional provision for having a people-initiated referendum haven’t been worked out yet because they would require subsequent legislation
Speaking with the press on Wednesday, Constitutional Review Secretariat Suzanne Bothwell said the idea was to give referendums a constitutional footing.
‘What would likely happen is that the constitution would allow for a people-initiated referendum, but you will have a domestic law because you have a lot of different rules and procedures that go along with [a referendum].’
Giving an example of the type of procedures that would have to worked out, Mrs. Bothwell noted that in the U.K. there are privately-funded campaigns that go along with referendums.
Not all of the details would necessarily have to be placed in domestic legislation, however. The People’s Progressive Movement government has proposed the constitution include criteria requiring at least 20 per cent of the electorate sign a petition to initiate the referendum.
In addition, in order to constitutionally bind the legislature to the results of the referendum, it would have to be passed by more than 50 per cent of the electorate.
Should the percentage of the electorate voting to pass the referendum be less than 50 per cent, the PPM government is proposing the results be advisory.
Mrs. Bothwell explained advisory meant that the Government might, depending on the issue and number of people voting to pass the issue, still act on the matter.
Another detail about the referendum that could be included in the constitution is the timing of when a referendum would have to take place after a petition was presented to the government.
As of now, the government is not proposing any specific time in which the referendum must occur.
‘We’re awaiting public feedback on it,’ Mrs. Bothwell said.
If a new constitution includes a provision for a referendum, the domestic legislation would have to be passed before any people-initiated referendums could occur.
‘If this becomes part of an agreed constitutional reform and is part of a new constitution, I would hope that the government of the day, whoever they are, will implement whatever can be implemented as quickly as possible,’ Mrs. Bothwell said.
Whether a people-initiated referendum could include a call for early elections is something else that Mrs. Bothwell would like to hear public feedback on.
Leader of the Opposition McKeeva Bush said the United Democratic Party agreed generally with the concept of one-question referendums, but that he did not agree with what the PPM had proposed.
‘We believe there is a good many people – we don’t know if it’s a majority – who want referendums,’ he said. ‘But what they are proposing will never work. It’s a complete farce.’
Mr. Bush said requiring more than 50 per cent of the electorate to make the referendum binding was too high.
The 50 per cent figure relates to eligible voters and not the number of people who actually vote in the referendum. For example, if the Cayman Islands had 13,000 registered voters at the time of a referendum, and only 9,000 voted, 6,501, or 72 per cent would have to vote in favour of the issue for it to be binding. Thus the lower the voter turn out, the higher the percentage of people that would have to vote to pass the issue in order for it to be binding.
Mr. Bush said he understood that people want to have a say in the running of the country.
‘Having a senate and district councils would empower people much better than a having referendums,’ he said. ‘But if they’re going to have referendums, they should have it so they’re really meaningful.’