Democracy as a concept of governance is more ancient than Christianity and from the time democracy was defined and tried, it became vigorously debated and contested.
Wars, revolutions and counter-revolutions have been and are being fought in the name of democracy; a concept of government that remains elusive, perhaps because its many principles are so ancient and means so many different things to so many different people. It is therefore my opinion that only a people can decide whether or not their system of government is democratic enough for them and whether it is based upon the most importance tenants of democracy; the first of which must be the right to self-determination.
The call by many Caymanian voters for more democracy through the establishment of the very important democratic principle of one person one vote in national elections is by no means unreasonable; but it is being demanded at a very late period in the development of Caymanian democracy for many reasons. Perhaps the not so obvious reason being; that when our nation was settled by Europeans who brought African slaves to their small plantations as property to be used as means of production, the forming of a democratic society was the furthest thought from these settlers mind. It would take at least until the 1830s before the Cayman Islands achieved an assembly of some white and powerful individuals that would be charged with the task of making laws and raising monies for the good governance of the colony.
The end of World War Two witnessed the decline of imperialism and the doctrine and practice of super exploitation of non-European territories and peoples for the specific benefits of Europe and its peoples, as well as the struggles for home rule and democracy in Africa, Asia and most of the Caribbean territories; except for the Cayman Islands. This struggle for democracy or self-determination and realisation was absent in the Cayman Islands because we lack the intellectual and material conditions to understand and value these human pursuits.
Nevertheless, the Cayman Islands were forced away from its lack of responsibility to a greater humanity as a consequences not of its own demands for self-determination but because all around us was awaking from the drunken state of political irresponsibility, which had existed for centuries in the Caribbean.
The post war establishment of a colonial office in the Cayman Islands, in the form of a commissioner or administrator meant that the direction towards civility and self-determination became first and foremost the responsibility of the colonial office because of Britain’s international obligations rather than the demands and desires of the Caymanian people for greater say in the affairs of their own lives. Thus most of the representatives of the first assemblies were appointed and those elected were basically proxies of the ruling merchant family or families in each district and what many of us came to regard and accept as democracy was simply the exercise of power by those with economic and religious authority rather than a full exercise of the peoples right to determine their destinies.
I still remember, as a boy, how Mr. Orman Panton tried but failed to convince the powerless majority that their vote made them equal to those controlling the shops and pulpits. Mr. Orman’s defeat or taming was also a defeat for popular democracy. Political education was then denied to the people and certain types of political literature were banned while individuals not willing to humble themselves and accept the status quo were criminalised or banned from respectability.
What has been crucial for me to remember while making a crude sketch of our political development is that the colonial office and their local representatives did not interfere in anyway with the power configuration in our Islands but instead saw continued stability as tied to the preservation of a racial-class structure fermented by slavery and its aftermath. This was so much so that our electoral process became as difficult to alter as the Administrative Orders or Constitutions that governed that process.
The change to the election law, which is now being demanded by a great number of voices, is one which will give each person regardless of their district one vote. It will not establish single member districts; instead it will divide the larger districts into constituencies while leaving the same number of districts at five and prevent money from overshadowing the will of the people.
But although this important act will establish for the first time in our history voting equality among our people regardless of district, the move is being opposed by the premier because like many other democratising benefits, it is viewed as a threat to those that hold power as proxies of the rich and powerful and use money to overshadow the will of the people.
And, as in Mr. Orman’s days, the strategy of misinformation and fear mongering is being used, this time by our Honourable Premier, who has become the representative of the wealthy rather than the many. For he is well aware of his political inheritance and that as long as he can pretend that he is the only politician with the common sense to respect business and business people, those with money will provide him with the funds necessary to defeat the will of his people at his referendum on the issue of single member constituencies and equality at the polls.