Plans to hold a referendum on the Government’s constitutional modernisation plans this summer have been scrapped.
In a stunning back-flip, the referendum will now be held at the same time as the 2009 General Election – following constitutional negotiations with the United Kingdom.
Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts made the announcement at a press conference Friday morning.
‘I am not happy with this change of plan, or that it has become necessary, but I am satisfied, as are my colleagues, that it is the best way forward,’ Mr. Tibbetts said.
He said a ‘hypocritical’ opposition United Democratic Party campaign of ‘disinformation, scaremongering and confusion’ had, to an extent, been successful.
The 20 May 2009 referendum vote will now be a straight up or down, or approve or reject vote, following the production of a draft constitution after negotiations with the UK. Those negotiations are scheduled to begin here in September, Mr. Tibbetts said, with a view to producing a draft constitution for public discussion by the end of the year or in early January.
Fears of a low voter turn-out were one of the reasons Mr. Tibbetts highlighted as a reason for the sudden change-of-course. While a strong ballot-box endorsement of the Government’s proposals would have put pressure on London to accept them, indications now are that turn out for a summer referendum would be low, which would make little or no impression on London, he said.
Opposition members will be asked to join the negotiating team, as will members of non-governmental organisations including the Chamber of Commerce and the Cayman Ministers Association.
‘In particular, we hope that the opposition will at last make clear what changes they would like to see in the constitution,’ Mr. Tibbetts said. ‘Then we can deal with our differences in a sensible and open way.’
Leader of the Opposition McKeeva Bush welcomed the announcement, describing it as a victory for the Caymanian people.
‘The UDP has always called for more time, has called for the referendum to be conducted after there is a draft referendum in-hand, and for the referendum to be on a single question. All of which now has been adopted by the PPM,’ Mr. Bush said.
Cabinet Minister Alden McLaughlin has previously argued strongly against holding a referendum vote on the same day as the general election, saying it would politicise the issue of constitutional modernisation.
‘We think that is absolutely the worst thing that could happen,’ he told the Compass in early April. ‘What will occur then, as has occurred before, is that the issue of the constitution will be one of a range of campaign issues, none of which receive proper attention.’
‘The rhetoric and campaigning and the general controversy that is part of any election campaign is going to cause focus to be lost,’ he said at the time.
‘It’s going to become even more political. We are not going to wind up getting … the best indication we could get.