A member of the ruling United Democratic Party on Thursday night left open the possibility that a referendum on the ‘one man, one vote’ concept might be held before 2013.
“At this stage, the government has made a … commitment and said that we will have a referendum at the [general] election in 2013,” said West Bay Member of the Legislative Assembly Cline Glidden Jr. “If the government can be so convinced to have it before and that it can afford to prioritise and use the money that is being used for something else to be used for that, then it’s possible.”
A petition seeking to hold a public referendum prior to the May 2013 general elections has gathered an estimated 3,000 signatures, according to organisers. That petition – which is expected to go to Cabinet members by 30 April – seeks to hold a public vote on the matter no later than 30 November. According to government, the cost of holding such a vote would be between $500,000 and $750,000.
According to the Cayman Islands Constitution, a petition with signatures of 25 per cent of registered voters – somewhere around 3,700 or 3,800 people – can force government to hold a referendum on the topic. However, it cannot force a government to hold that vote on a specific date.
“The petition … has shown me that there is enough of an interest that we need to have a referendum,” Mr. Glidden said.
The West Bay MLA’s comments came during a Thursday night forum held to debate the ‘one man, one vote’ issue. The nonprofit group Generation Now hosted the event.
Premier McKeeva Bush said he was unable to attend the gathering and sent Mr. Glidden as his representative. The other four representatives on the Generation Now debate panel; Opposition Leader Alden McLaughlin, North Side MLA Ezzard Miller, Electoral Boundary Commission member Adrianne Webb and concerned citizen Richard Arch, all said they support the “one man, one vote” concept.
Mr. Glidden said he would listen to the voters on the issue and be guided by their decision. However, he also told one questioner from the audience that – even if the ‘one man’ petition did receive 25 per cent voter signatures – that would not represent a majority of voters.
For a referendum to be successful, it must pass with 50 per cent plus one vote of all electors in the Cayman Islands. The number of registered voters in Cayman was roughly 15,300 at the start of the year. That means some 7,600 people would have to vote ‘yes’ on a referendum question for it to pass no matter how many people showed up at the polls. If only 10,000 people showed up to vote, the measure would then have to pass with 76 per cent voter support.
Mr. Miller, one of two sponsors of the petition, said he would not trust politicians’ promises regarding the holding of a public referendum on an issue he said successive governments have avoided since 1972.
“I would caution you, the people, to rely on politicians to change the current system,” Mr. Miller said. “The referendum … is the only way how it’s going to happen.”
Mr. McLaughlin said it would be simple enough for the current government to change the law to allow for single-member constituencies, if it wished – without the benefit of a referendum.
“They don’t need to wait on the trigger being pulled by a referendum, they can do it at anytime,” he said.
Mr. Glidden said he’s not convinced there is a majority of public support for the measure.
“It’s up to the populace to decide,” he said. “The government has committed to holding a referendum on the issue. If the majority of the populace decides, then we will have single-member constituencies.”
Where’s the majority?
If the territory does move to single-member constituent voting districts, members who represent those districts will not be required to obtain a “50-per-cent-plus-one” majority of votes in that district if there are more than two people running.
Cayman’s 2009 Constitution Order operates on the “first past the post principle” with regard to elected representatives, meaning the greatest number of votes wins regardless of percentage.
“With the 2000 elections, in some districts, the leaders got in with 30 per cent of the votes,” local resident Billy Adam noted during Thursday’s panel discussions. “That means that 70 per cent of the people in that district said we don’t want that person.”
Mr. Adam asked if anyone on the Generation Now debate panel would support requiring run-off elections if no candidates get more than 50 per cent of the vote.
“I don’t support that method of election,” Mr. Miller said “I think, if there’s several people running, the one that gets the most votes wins. What I do support is a recall mechanism of 2/3rd of the registered voters in the single-member constituency being able to recall a non-performing representative.”
Mr. McLaughlin said what Mr. Adam proposed would require constitutional change and probably another referendum, if voters were interested in the issue.