The last time the Generation Now group held a debate – on the topic of immigration – Premier McKeeva Bush wasn’t there, although his administration’s position was represented by the head of Mr. Bush’s Immigration Review Team.
At the next debate, set by the non-profit group for this Thursday, the Premier is scheduled to be in attendance, according to an announcement about the event. He’ll be joined by Opposition Leader Alden McLaughlin, North Side MLA Ezzard Miller, Electoral Boundary Commission member Adrianne Webb and Richard Arch, who is listed as a “concerned citizen” on a pamphlet announcing the event.
The topic for Thursday’s discussions will be ‘one man, one vote’, essentially asking panellists to consider whether the country should stay with its current multi-member, multi-vote elector system; or if Cayman should instead be divided into 18 separate voting districts from which each would send one person to the Legislative Assembly every four years.
Right now, Cayman’s two largest districts – George Town and West Bay – send four candidates, and voters in those districts get to cast four separate ballots for the people they support. Bodden Town voters send three LA representatives, Sister Islands voters get two, and one MLA apiece go to East End and North Side.
The will change in 2013, the first general election held under the new Cayman Islands Constitution. George Town will grow to six representatives and Bodden Town to four. All other districts are expected to remain the same.
Mr. Bush’s position on the matter, as well as Mr. McLaughlin’s and Mr. Miller’s, is well known. Mr. Bush doesn’t support single member voting districts; Mr. McLaughlin and Mr. Miller do. Mr. Miller and East End MLA Arden McLean are circulating a petition around the Islands asking for voters to sign up – hoping to force a referendum on the subject by November, prior to the country’s next general election in May 2013.
“The problem with the one man, one vote system is that it creates far too many expectations,” Mr. Bush told attendees at a meeting in East End last month. “We complain now about the money government [has to] spend, but people are going to want amenities in their area.
“They’re going to want a park, they’re going to want a school, they’re going to want a post office, they’re going to want a library and they’re going to want a playing field for such games as football, cricket and basketball. That has been the experience in other areas. They say ‘oh, well, other Caribbean Islands got it, but that’s what the problem is.” Supporters of the ‘one man, one vote’ measure have said the main issue is fairness, not expectations. They argue the current multi-member voting system is unfair. “The people of George Town, who each have four representatives with a rather peculiar current arrangement, where each political party has two of the four representatives and each can duck and weave from their responsibilities,” Mr. Miller said during the launch of the ‘one man, one vote’ petition in February. “[Under the new districts George Towners] would have six opportunities to vote, where the people in East End and North Side would just have one.”
East End MLA Arden McLean said single member voting districts will lead to better, more responsive governance.
“We have a responsibility to enlighten this country on the value of single-member constituency,” Mr. McLean said. “Every vote counts. Democracy does not flourish in the absence of equality and this is one component of that equality.”
Mr. Bush said in February that the discrepancy in the number of votes exists simply because of each district’s population.
“[West Bay has] more people,” he said to the crowd. “That’s why [East End] only has one [MLA], because you only have 500 voters. It’s not that you’re being treated worse than anybody.”
The premier said he doesn’t buy arguments the system will make elected officials more accountable; in fact, he said it would make them less so.
“In my district and George Town, a person can now go to four different representatives … to get help,” he said. “If a change comes in our voting system for one man, one vote, a representative … will stick to his own area. When you go to them, they will choose to say ‘I have my area, go to your representative’.”
He told the crowd he expected political manoeuvring was the chief concern of the ‘one man, one vote’ supporters.
“Some people in West Bay believe that if they split up West Bay they will get elected,” he said. “Well, they can chop it up into 100 pieces and they’re not going to get elected … the people already said no to them before. They can’t get rid of us like that, they talking nonsense.”
Opposition Leader McLaughlin backs the ‘one man, one vote’ principle. He just doesn’t know why there needs to be a referendum in November – ahead of the general elections – to implement it.
“The Constitution states that a simple change in the law is all that’s needed to create single-member constituencies,” Mr. McLaughlin said in February. “The PPM [People’s Progressive Movement] has promised that it will adopt ‘one man, one vote’ if it is put back in government. So why do we need a referendum on it six months before the general election?”
The Legislative Assembly last year considered a private members’ motion to adopt the ‘one man, one vote’ principle. It was defeated on a party-line vote. Mr. Bush’s United Democratic Party does not support single-member districts.
Mr. McLaughlin said there would be less than six months between 30 November and the general election in May 2013. Even though the 2010 Electoral Boundary Commission drew up and identified the 16 voting districts on Grand Cayman that would be used if the territory went to single member districts, Mr. McLaughlin said it would still be a matter of organising and educating voters as to where they needed to go and what ‘one man, one vote’ means.
“I’m just not sure there’s enough time,” Mr. McLaughlin said.