Opposition lawmakers said Monday constitutional proposals would unduly increase the size of Cayman’s governing body, and could lead to gerrymandering; the practice of dividing up electoral districts to benefit one political party over another.
The 24 October working draft of the constitution aimed to implement 16 single-member voting districts on Grand Cayman. According to that draft, two other members would be elected from Little Cayman and Cayman Brac giving the government a full compliment of 18 elected lawmakers.
Negotiators from the United Kingdom have said that single-member districts remain an outstanding point of discussion in on-going constitution talks, which are set to get underway for a final round in early February. They have proposed a compromise that would leave the decision on whether to go to single-member voting districts, or maintain the current system, up to the Legislative Assembly.
Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush pointed out last week that the working draft of the constitution would also allow elected members of the LA to increase the overall size of Cayman’s governing body simply by passing a law.
‘Before, you had to go to England to get (increasing the size of the legislature) done,’ Mr. Bush said. ‘Now, you’re going to get permission through the election law. We’re not sure that three more elected members are even needed now.’
‘It gives rise to gerrymandering and all that,’ he said.
Mr. Bush’s last concern came as a surprise to government ministers.
‘He didn’t raise the issue of gerrymandering during (last week’s) talks,’ Education Minister Alden McLaughlin said Monday.
Members of the ruling government have long supported proposals for full elected membership or ‘full ministerial government’ because it would ensure that no member of the LA gets to vote on the passage of laws unless the country’s voters put them in a position to do so.
‘The system we have now is very undemocratic in many respects,’ Mr. McLaughlin has said (see Caymanian Compass, 22 January, 2008). ‘What we are proposing in this new constitution is more democracy – the only people who are entitled to sit in parliament are the people who the electorate have decided upon.’
Currently, the Cayman Islands Legislative Assembly consists of 15 elected lawmakers and three members appointed by the governor. Proposed changes in the working draft would expand that to 18 elected members, and two additional members, the deputy governor and attorney general, who would attend the legislature’s meetings as non-voting or ‘ex-officio’ members. Those changes would not be able to take effect until the next general elections following this year’s.
The working draft proposal would also limit the number of Cabinet ministers to two-fifths of the entire Legislative Assembly. For example, if Cayman had 20 elected lawmakers, only eight could be appointed as government ministers.
With 18 elected officials, the maximum number of Cabinet ministers would be seven. Cabinet members could not be increased without increasing the overall membership in the house.
Also, Cayman Islands law requires the governor to order the formation of an Electoral Boundaries Commission in the event any new members are added to the LA, which serves as a protection against gerrymandering. .
The commission consists of a chairman, appointed by the governor, and two other members, one appointed on the advice of the premier and another upon the advice of the opposition leader.
If the current language on electoral districts stays in the final draft of the constitution, the governor would appoint such a commission as soon as is practical with an eye toward increasing elected membership of the LA by the elections following this year’s. After that, new commissions would have to be appointed at least every eight years, no matter what electoral system is used.