The national referendum on the government’s proposals for a modernised constitution will take place sometime in the latter part of July.
Speaking at the Cabinet Press Briefing Thursday, Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts said the exact date would be announced within the next two weeks.
The referendum question will ask: ‘Do you agree with the revised proposals for constitutional modernisation, published by the government on 22 May, 2008?’
There are three possible responses to Part 1 of the question, with one being ‘I agree with the revised proposals’ and another being ‘I disagree with the revised proposals’.
Mr. Tibbetts said people who choose either of those two options do not need to look at Part 2 of the ballot paper.
‘But we know there will be voters who agree with most of the revised proposals, but disagree with one or two particular items,’ he said.
Those people can mark the third option in Part 1, which states: ‘I agree with the revised proposals except as noted in Part 2 below.’
Those voters will then turn to Part 2, which states: I disagree with: and then is followed by 12 items in the revised proposals document.
One thing voters cannot disagree with is the inclusion of a bill of rights in the new constitution.
‘We thought it would be misleading to put this in Part 2, given that the UK has told us clearly that we will not get any of our changes to the constitution if it does not include a bill of rights,’ Mr. Tibbetts said. ‘Voters need to understand that and we must be careful not to give the impression that voters can approve the revised proposals without a bill of rights.’
Mr. Tibbetts said the government has not identified a percentage of voter turn-out to represent a mandate for the government to go to the United Kingdom to negotiate a new constitution.
‘While we have not stipulated any specific percentage, I think it would be fair to say a majority of people would need to vote to have a mandate,’ he said. ‘It would be difficult for us to move forward unless at least a majority of people turn out.
Mr. Tibbetts urged voters to vote in the referendum.
‘You have absolutely nothing to lose and so much to gain,’ he said.
He also warned that if voters do not approve the government to go to London to negotiate for a new constitution, they might never get the chance to get a new constitution through a referendum process again.
‘If the people don’t turn out to vote, I think it impresses, not only to us, but to London, that people don’t care about the constitution and I don’t believe that is the case,’ he said.
However, if the people vote against the proposals or if they do not turn out in sufficient numbers to represent a mandate, Mr. Tibbetts was clear on what the government’s response would be.
‘If we go through everything we can, as I believe we have, and we do not have any sort of mandate, we are not going to negotiate because we don’t know what to negotiate,’ he said.
‘If the people of this country do not wish to jump at this opportunity to ensure we modernise a constitution that is almost 40 years old and fraught with problems… and the country wants to live like that, we’ll leave the 1972 constitution and I’ll look at the trees and weep.’
Mr. Tibbetts spoke about the Opposition’s calls for a longer period of public education and discussion.
‘The Opposition could have done so much more to help the public,’ he said. ‘In any event, as I have said, six months of public education is quite sufficient.’
Mr. Tibbetts stressed that it was not too late for the Opposition to ‘see the light and play a more constructive role’ in the constitution modernisation process.
Voting for the referendum will take place in all electoral districts of the Cayman Islands. However, results of the referendum will not be reported by district, Cabinet Minister Alden McLaughlin said, adding that the process would be open with election observers in place.
More of the details of how the referendum will work – for instance how the answers in Part 2 will be weighted – will be included in the Referendum Bill, which was going to the Legislative Assembly Thursday afternoon.