Disqualified for 22 May national polls by the attorney general, disappointed Bodden Town candidate Richard Christian is vowing legal action after Friday’s Grand Court decision allowing electoral competitors to hold foreign passports.
“I assure you, I am going to take some sort of action, although I am not sure what that is going to be,” Mr. Christian, an aspiring People’s National Alliance candidate in the May ballot, told the Caymanian Compass.
Seeking legal representation, Mr. Christian said he had been advised in a March letter from the Elections Office that he was not qualified to contest the Bodden Town district because he held a US passport.
The letter “was signed by the returning officer, based on advice from the attorney general’s chambers that I was disqualified,” Mr. Christian said.
Private legal advice had assured him he was clear to contest one of the four district seats, but after the March letter, he abandoned the effort.
“This result has sickened me,” he said on Saturday, bitterly reflecting on Friday’s ruling by Chief Justice Anthony Smellie in a similar challenge to West Bay candidate Tara Rivers.
A 12 June petition sought to overturn Ms Rivers’s successful bid for one of the district’s four assembly seats, citing residency restrictions and her possession of an American passport.
After three days of courtroom arguments and three weeks of deliberation, the chief justice vacated the petition, declaring that a foreign passport, particularly from the US, granted only on the basis of a citizenship gained by birth, did not indicate an “acknowledgement of obedience of allegiance to a foreign power”, and was, therefore, permissible under the Cayman Islands Constitution.
The decision triggered a furore of speculation regarding not only Mr. Christian, but also – like Ms Rivers – independent and Coalition for Cayman-endorsed candidates Kent McTaggart in Bodden Town and Sharon Roulstone in George Town.
Mr. McTaggart fell foul of residency requirements and dropped his bid. Cayman-born Ms Roulstone renounced her US citizenship, gained only by virtue of her father’s nationality, and surrendered her US passport on 31 January in order to contest the May elections. She finished eighth among 21 candidates in the six-seat district.
Mr. Christian said on Saturday that he “was happy for Tara Rivers. She was a great candidate for West Bay and especially for this new generation of Caymanians.
“I kind of know what she was going through, and, to tell you the truth, I’m still digesting all of this. The chief justice made a decision and we all have to respect it, but what I am trying to figure out is what happened with the attorney general and the Elections Office advice, and why I was treated differently.”
The Elections Office, he said, was aware of qualification issues among all the candidates, and that election supervisors – saying “we can’t deal with one differently than another” – gave discretion to each district’s returning officers as they accepted 27 March nomination papers.
Mr. Christian had learned that discretion was recommended by the attorney general, who told elections officials that passport issues created a “very peculiar situation and that one case cannot not decide another”.
However, he said, his letter from the local returning officer had said he was disqualified, based on advice from the attorney general.
“I’m disappointed in the attorney general’s chambers that made the decision. They gave the Elections Office the advice that I was not qualified,” Mr. Christian said.
He said he did not know if he would renew his candidacy in 2017.
“I really don’t know, but who knows what might happen in another four years? As a representative, I feel like I am going back on my word. You know it’s not going to be easy when you get into these things, but you have to fight it.”
He said he had encountered the district returning officer since the election, “and he said he had just been doing his job, and that is fair enough, but I don’t think I should have to give up my US passport”.
In the wake of Friday’s Grand Court exculpation of Ms Rivers, Premier Alden McLaughlin lamented the attorney general’s decision regarding Mr. Christian.
“That advice was clearly wrong,” he said, “but anyone can be wrong. In fairness, we understand there wasn’t a great deal of clarity. The law has been all over the place.
“Our Constitution is unique in certain respects. I think for the first time, we have real clarity on these provisions: passports, what qualifies as an ‘educational establishment’ and residency,” he said.