Expanded voting rights desired

People speaking at the Constitutional Modernization meeting in North Side on Thursday night asked for more power through increased voting opportunities.

At present, voters in Cayman are entitled to vote in two situations: election of the person or persons who will represent their district in the Legislative Assembly; and response to a question put forward by the Assembly in a referendum.

On Thursday night, people gathered at the Craddock Ebanks Civic Centre raised other options: the right to vote for all members of the Legislative Assembly; the right to vote for members of Cabinet; the right to recall a representative; and a say in the establishment of district councils.

Mr. Teddy Ebanks first raised the issue of all voters voting for all of the representatives. Alternatively, he suggested elections by district, which occurs at present, ‘but once you’re elected, constituencies fall away and you represent the Cayman Islands.’

District issues would then be dealt with by town councils, Mr. Ebanks suggested.

Cabinet member Arden McLean responded to the idea of islands-wide voting for MLAs. He used North Side as an example. If the district has 550 voters and one candidate gets 400 of those votes, clearly North Siders prefer that person, he said. But if there are 5,000 voters in George Town and they do not like that person, he or she would not be elected. ‘Smaller districts could get wiped out,’ Mr. McLean said.

Mr. Derrington ‘Bo’ Miller brought up the idea of national elections for national management and district elections for district management. Community councils can take a load off of central government, he said.

Mr. Stanley Panton said he would like to see two elections. First there would be ‘one man, one vote’ for the 17 representatives from 17 constituencies. Then, somewhere between 14 and 30 days later, there would be another election in which voters choose the seven members of Cabinet.

Response again came from Mr. McLean, who pointed out that people in other countries don’t elect ministers. He said that system would mean the persons elected would have to form a coalition government. If they couldn’t work together, the Governor would have to call another election.

Mr. Panton argued that, under the present system, he might like Mr. McLean as Minister for Infrastructure, but couldn’t vote for him because he lives in North Side while Mr. McLean is the MLA for East End.

Mr. McLean replied that, before general elections, each party should put forward their proposed Cabinet slate so voters would know whom to support.

‘If you’re going to modernise the Constitution, please give us more power and do it by having national elections as well,’ Mr. Panton urged.

Mr. Miller recommended consolidating ‘as much power as you can’ in the hands of the people. ‘Cayman is unique. I think we should try some unique things.’

Mr. McLean said local government could be enshrined in the Constitution.

A younger member of the audience expressed concern about MLAs who don’t have the best interests of Cayman at heart. Mr. Omari Rankine wanted to know what voters had in place to do something about that.

Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts said some people subscribe to the idea of a recall. In reality, if someone gets elected and does not perform, it is not long before the system takes care of that person. But people may not want to wait four years for the next election.

One of the proposals for the revised Constitution is a people-initiated referendum, Mr. Tibbetts said. If enough people think a representative is not fit, they could gather enough signatures to trigger a referendum to replace that person. The vote would have to be by a specified amount to be binding.

‘But,’ Mr. Tibbetts concluded ‘anybody who had any sense would resign before it got to that point.’

Facilitators for the evening’s discussion were Mrs. Suzanne Bothwell and Mr. Christian Suckoo from the Constitutional Review Secretariat.

Mrs. Bothwell said there seemed to be some apathy toward the Constitutional Modernization Initiative. She asked what could be done to get everybody in the community behind the effort.

Mr. Miller suggested going door to door.

Mrs. Wendy Quinland said the public meetings were very important. She wondered if the presentation made during the first round of meetings had been taken to the prison. She said the inmates should feel part of the process, part of the community.

About 25 people attended Thursday night’s meeting.

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