National election for leader urged

Some Caymanians are asking the government to consider changes to the constitution that would require the country’s leader to be elected by all eligible voters, instead of just by one district or single-member constituency.

Under the current system, the Leader of Government Business is chosen among members of the ruling party. That would not change under the government’s constitutional reform proposal for the much more powerful and influential office of premier.

The government’s reform plan gives the premier the power to chair Cabinet meetings and set the agenda for those meetings, rather than the governor.

‘(Premier) is a post that’s really going to relegate the governor to nothing,’ said resident Woody DaCosta at a recent meeting about constitutional modernization held in Savannah. ‘In my opinion, given the broad parameters that the premier is going to have, shouldn’t that post be a post that’s going to be elected island-wide?’

The idea that some or even all of the elected members of the Legislative Assembly should be chosen by the entire country has been brought up before, and has gotten some support from activist groups like People for Referendum.

‘It is desirable to have politicians be nationally accountable, but I’m not sure how we should structure that at this time,’ said PFR member Dennie Warren.

Education Minister Alden McLaughlin told the audience in Savannah that a country-wide election had a certain ‘superficial attraction’ to it. However, he said it’s not generally done under the parliamentary democracy system the Cayman Islands has adopted.

‘We pretty much know who the premier or chief minister will be in advance of the elections,’ Mr. McLaughlin said, noting that in 2005 voters were well aware that Kurt Tibbetts would be leader if the People’s Progressive Movement won control of the government, and McKeeva Bush would have been leader if the United Democratic Party had won.

Mr. McLaughlin said most Caribbean countries that were former British colonies have adopted the same system, and that a premier or chief minister can often be removed if his or her colleagues in government believe they’re not doing an adequate job.

He said country-wide elections would be a move toward a more republic-style democracy, similar to the US system of government.

‘We don’t believe there’s any real support for that,’ Mr. McLaughlin said. ‘(Parliamentary democracy) has been tried and tested for hundreds of years in much bigger places than ours.’

Mr. DaCosta said he was also troubled by the amount of power that would rest in the premier’s hands under the government’s constitutional reform proposal.

‘What are the checks and balances given the broad scope that this premier is going to have?’ he asked during the meeting in Savannah.

The government has proposed limiting the person who holds the premier’s office to two four-year terms. After those two terms, the person would have to vacate that office for at least one four-year term, although they could remain an elected member in the Legislative Assembly. They would be eligible to seek the premier’s position again after the four-year hiatus.

Mr. McLaughlin said the term limits, and the possibility that the premier could be removed by his or her elected colleagues, are important balances to the power of that position.