Members of the ruling United Democratic Party met all day Saturday and were set to resume meeting late Sunday afternoon to determine the fate of the political group and its long-time leader, Cayman Islands Premier McKeeva Bush.
The organisation, which consists of a majority nine of 15 elected members within the Cayman Islands Legislative Assembly, was thrown into flux Tuesday following Mr. Bush’s arrest at his home on suspicion of theft and corruption-related allegations. Mr. Bush had not been charged with any crimes as of Sunday press time.
By Sunday afternoon, no formal decision had been announced with regard to whether Mr. Bush would stay on as premier, a post which he became the first person in the Cayman Islands to hold following the commencement of the current Constitution Order in November 2009.
According to sources who spoke with the Caymanian Compass on condition of anonymity, UDP elected members had decided either late Friday or early Saturday to remove Mr. Bush as premier. However, upon Mr. Bush’s return from Jamaica overnight Friday and his subsequent participation in Saturday meetings, the decision was revisited, sources said.
Party members said a 4.30pm meeting had been scheduled Sunday at which “some final decisions” would be made. Mr. Bush was expected to make a statement on Monday.
Thus far, the only official comment from the UDP on Mr. Bush’s arrest was one issued Tuesday, stating the government fully understood “the gravity of this matter”.
Mr. Bush told the Jamaica Gleaner’s Sunday editions that he would give “serious thought” to continuing in office.
“My party and the country come first, and I am giving serious thought if I should continue beyond this term,” the Gleaner quoted Mr. Bush as saying.
The premier told the Caymanian Compass after his recent return from the United Kingdom that he might not seek executive office if he and his party were to win re-election. Mr. Bush told the Compass that his final decision would come during the party conference in January.
If the UDP were to remove Mr. Bush as leader and stay in power as a government, it would either have to convince all eight remaining elected members to turn on the premier or replace any members who stayed loyal to Mr. Bush with representatives from the People’s Progressive Movement opposition party or from among the two independent members of the Legislative Assembly.
If Mr. Bush remained as premier, but more than one current UDP member were to defect from the party, the government would be effectively hamstrung because it would not contain a majority of eight LA members on its side. By Sunday, a coalition government without Mr. Bush as premier seemed unlikely; a coalition government with Mr. Bush as premier seemed even more so.
“Hell will freeze over before I join any government led by McKeeva Bush,” Opposition Leader Alden McLaughlin said Saturday. “I don’t see any point in doing some kind of horse-trading exercise less than six months before an election.”
In the scenario where no government controlled a majority of eight elected representatives and so was simply unable to form, the constitution calls for the governor to dissolve the Legislative Assembly and call elections within two months of the dissolution.
If that were to happen next week, it would have the effect of moving general elections now scheduled for 22 May, 2013, to somewhere around mid-February.
Somewhat surprisingly, Mr. Bush travelled to Jamaica on Thursday following his release on police bail the day before. The premier had planned the trip earlier to receive an honourary doctorate degree from the University College of the Caribbean in Kingston. However, the school withheld that award pending the resolution of the criminal investigation against Mr. Bush. He still gave the commencement address at the college on Thursday.
When he returned to Cayman overnight Friday into Saturday morning, about 100 supporters welcomed Mr. Bush home.
Overnight Friday, Mr. Bush remained defiant before a group of staunch supporters who arrived to meet him at Owen Roberts International Airport in Grand Cayman.
“It is hurtful to me and my family when people try to do these types of things,” Mr. Bush said. “The damage they have caused Cayman is great but time will tell it. I have not done anything illegal and I won’t say much more than that but this has been a vendetta by the governor from before he came here.
“Now I am going to have to start some investigations of my own,” the premier added, leaving that remark completely unexplained.
Following the commencement speech in Kingston, Mr. Bush made much the same comments to Jamaican reporters, referring to Cayman Islands Governor Duncan Taylor as his enemy.
“We are a British Overseas Territory and as such it is run by the governor and the commissioner of police. And so I can’t miss that it is nothing but a political, very vindictive political witch hunt,” Mr. Bush said. Royal Cayman Islands Police Commissioner David Baines made no comment on Mr. Bush’s remarks by press time Sunday.
Governor Taylor denied any vendetta or conspiracy to prosecute Mr. Bush and said Friday that the governor’s office had not been involved in the matter at all. Steve Moore, head of the Governor’s Office, said Friday that Governor Taylor had “taken note” of Mr. Bush’s comments in Jamaica and that there is “absolutely no substance to those allegations” of the governor being vindictive and political.
Mr. Moore reiterated that Mr. Bush’s arrest earlier this week had “nothing to do with the FCO or the governor. This is an investigation being directed and led by the RCIPS”.
Mr. McLaughlin submitted a letter to Speaker of the House Mary Lawrence late Friday, asking her to convene a special meeting of the Legislative Assembly in order to debate a no confidence motion against the UDP government. If Mrs. Lawrence did not agree to convene such a meeting, Mr. McLaughlin said he would seek to obtain the legally required seven signatures in order to hold the meeting without the speaker’s consent.
“The current state of affairs presents a matter of the gravest national importance,” Mr. McLaughlin wrote. “There is no question but that this situation has already done immense harm to our credibility as an international business centre and as a place to work and do businesses.”
If Speaker Lawrence does not agree to convene a special meeting, Mr. McLaughlin would presumably have at least six signatures for the special meeting from among his own party and the two independent members of the legislature. He did not state where the seventh signature might come from.
The “no confidence” motion would be moot in any case, if the Legislative Assembly were to be dissolved by the governor before then.