New Constitution requires two-thirds vote
Once three new elected members are added to the Cayman Islands Legislative Assembly, it will be virtually impossible to remove a sitting government from power or call for new elections in the middle of a term via a vote of lack of confidence.
Opposition Leader Alden McLaughlin filed a motion last week to take such a vote during the upcoming meeting of the Legislative Assembly. To be successful, Mr. McLaughlin’s motion would have to gain 10 ‘yes’ votes from the 15 sitting elected members of the LA.
That means all government backbenchers, as well as independent member Ezzard Miller, would have to vote in favour of the motion in order to either remove Premier McKeeva Bush from office or dissolve the government and hold new elections, since it is unlikely that any of the five elected ministers would choose to vote against their own government.
However, by 2013, Cayman’s Constitution calls for 18 total elected members in total and envisions that there will be seven elected government ministers selected from that group. For a two-thirds vote on a lack of confidence motion at that stage, 12 of the 18 elected members would need to vote in favour – that means at least one government minister would have to oppose themselves in order for such a vote to succeed.
Even without the two extra ministerial positions, former Leader of Government Business Truman Bodden and former Minister John McLean noted in a letter to the Caymanian Compass in September that the current situation makes it very difficult for a vote of no confidence to be approved. Their comments came in relation to a government proposal at the time to increase the current number of elected ministers from five to six.
“The backbench… cannot remove the premier and the government on a vote of no confidence because it takes two-thirds of the MLAs to do so and with six ministers there are only nine backbencher MLAs,” Messrs. Bodden and McLean wrote. “This is undemocratic and the government in practice cannot be removed by the non-Cabinet members.”
This is precisely the situation that will occur once government moves to 18 elected members with seven ministers including the premier being appointed from among them.
“All democratic Westminster constitutions have a majority vote (51 per cent) for a no confidence in government resolution,” Messrs McLean and Bodden continued. “In Cayman [currently], this would be eight of the 15 MLAs.”
The two men urged the ruling United Democratic Party government to “fix the mistake” made in the constitution by the drafters of the document.
Ironically, it is now the previous government members from the People’s Progressive Movement party that are using the lack of confidence motion – which Mr. McLean and Mr. Bodden called a mistake – in attempts to force a new election prior to 2013.
Mr. McLaughlin, in correspondence sent to the local press over the weekend, indicated that times had changed and that the constitution no longer allows government ministers to be individually removed.
“Under the 1972 Constitution… the Legislative Assembly could revoke a minister’s election to Cabinet if at least nine elected members of the house voted to do so,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “This was what occurred on November 8th, 2001 when Kurt Tibbetts and Edna Moyle were removed from Cabinet.”
Amendments to the constitution in 2003 did not give the Leader of Government Business, as the leader of the elected government, any authority or responsibility over other ministers of government.
That changed in the 2009 Constitution, Mr. McLaughlin said. Now the premier has responsibility for the ministers, including advising the governor on their appointment.
“It is not possible for the House to vote to revoke the appointments of individual ministers,” Mr. McLaughlin said, adding that the LA’s Standing Orders cannot override the country’s Constitution.
Former Tourism Minister Charles Clifford disagrees with Mr. McLaughlin’s assessment. Mr. Clifford believes the Standing Orders – which are supported in the 2009 Constitution – can be used to remove individual members.
“[Standing Orders] exist by virtue of the transitional provisions and Section 71 of the 2009 Constitution,” Mr. Clifford said. “[Those] allow for a lack of confidence motion to be brought against an individual minister or government.”
Even if the motion results in removal of Mr. Bush as premier, Mr. Clifford believes a coalition government could then be formed among the remaining government members and the opposition bench.
“Time is of the essence and this motion must have every opportunity to succeed,” he said.