Cayman will go to the polls in July to decide if the Islands will adopt single member constituencies.
However, exactly what question or questions voters will answer in the referendum won’t be known until lawmakers pass legislation with the question attached.
Premier McKeeva Bush, who announced in the Legislative Assembly this week that a referendum on one person, one vote would be held on Wednesday, 18 July, told legislators that what the referendum will ask voters would be decided following a public education campaign.
“I translate ‘public education campaign’ to mean they’re going to campaign strongly against this,” Opposition Leader Alden McLaughlin said later on Wednesday evening.
Mr. Bush refused to be drawn when questioned in the Legislative Assembly repeatedly by Mr. McLaughlin on whether the referendum would be considered to be government-initiated or people-initiated. A group of politicians and community activists began circulating a petition seeking support for the ‘one man, one vote’ issue earlier this year. According to reports, that petition has received more than 3,000 voter signatures.
Who initiated the referendum is a key question because it will determine how many voters must assent to any referendum question for it to pass.
According to the constitution, a referendum sparked by a public petition, known as a people-initiated referendum, would be passed only if more than 50 per cent of all registered voters – not just those who participate in the referendum – vote in favour of the question.
For instance, Cayman had about 15,300 registered voters in January so 7,650 would represent half of that number.
That means at least 7,651 people would have to vote in favour of the referendum for it to pass no matter how many turned up at the polls on 18 July.
Although a petition signed by a quarter of the electorate can prompt a referendum, Cabinet always decides the date of the referendum and the exact wording of the referendum question.
If the referendum is considered to be government-initiated, the constitution does not specify what percentage of the electorate would need to vote in favour it. Presumably, the government could set the voting threshold lower, or even higher for the matter to pass.
Mr. Bush told the Caymanian Compass Wednesday that the same threshold of 50 per cent plus one of all registered voters would apply to a government-initiated referendum, as it does in a people-initiated referendum.
“I seriously doubt they would set it higher,” Mr. McLaughlin said.
Petitioners for the ‘one man, one vote’ issue had originally asked the government to set a referendum date no later than 30 November, roughly six months before the general election. Mr. McLaughlin previously argued that the government could set the public vote any time it wished and in any case needed nothing more than the simple passage of a law to enact single-member constituencies in Cayman.
However, the ruling United Democratic Party has stated that it does not, as a party, support single-member constituencies.
“They must feel there is some advantage in doing it this way,” Mr. McLaughlin said, adding that holding the referendum during the peak of summer when many Caymanian families traditionally choose to take vacations could serve to suppress votes.
“That is going to be a factor,” he said.
No public holiday
According to Premier Bush’s office, no public holiday would be called for the date of the July referendum.
“No holiday [is] planned for the referendum date,” said Charles Glidden, press secretary for the Premier.
According to the Public Holidays Law [2007 Revision] schedule, public holidays shall include: “The day appointed under the Elections Law for the taking of the poll at a general election in the Islands.”
Whether a referendum is legally considered a general election isn’t clear. The Public Holidays Law was written prior to the 2009 constitutional amendment that allowed for voter-initiated referenda.
During Wednesday’s LA sitting, Mr. McLaughlin asked Mr. Bush: “This is a constitutional matter. If the trigger laid down by the constitution is pulled regarding the people-initiated referendum, for which the petition is still in circulation and has not yet been presented to the government… the government is bound constitutionally to do what is required, which is to hold a referendum in accordance with the terms of that specific constitutional provision relating to people-initiated referendum.
“That is why in order to avoid a muddle about this, I am asking the premier which course is it the government is following?”
He queried if the referendum announced by Mr. Bush was in response to the petition circulating, which calls for a referendum on one person, one vote, to be held in November or whether it was a government-initiated referendum, saying it was “as clear as mud” to him which kind of referendum the government intended to hold.
Mr. Bush responded that although he had heard a lot about the petition, which was launched by North Side MLA Ezzard Miller and East End MLA Arden McLean, but had not yet seen it and did not know its specific wording.
The premier had previously said that he was willing to hold a referendum on one man, one vote, on the same date as the general election next year, but had opted now to put the issue to the public in the July referendum in reaction to what he described as the “deepening divide in the country due to the way the opposition and the independent member from North Side has used the issue”.