The premier is facing a backlash from supporters of electoral reform who have accused him of going back on a campaign promise to introduce single-member constituencies before the next election.
Alden McLaughlin confirmed in a television interview Monday that there was a “distinct possibility” that his government would not introduce “one-man one-vote” this term.
The premier said he personally supported voting reform but suggested that bringing it through would cause “dissension in my administration” and hamper efforts to push ahead with issues of economic and social significance.
The government is a coalition of PPM members, many of whom were involved in the one man, one vote campaign, and Independent candidates, who released a joint statement this week reaffirming their support for electoral reform.
The differences are understood to center on the exact nature of how one man, one vote would be established – with some concerned that 18 or 19 single-member constituencies may not be the most appropriate model.
Chamber of Commerce President Johann Moxam said he was “disappointed and deeply concerned” by the premier’s comments, while government backbencher Alva Suckoo announced on Tuesday that he would be bringing a private members motion to the Legislative Assembly in an effort to push through reform.
Contacted Wednesday, Mr. Suckoo said he needed to discuss the issue with other government members in caucus before commenting further.
Mr. Moxam, meanwhile, urged the premier to consult with his Cabinet colleagues to try and ensure voting reform moves ahead.
“Fulfilling manifesto promises is the bedrock for maintaining credibility and the confidence of all stakeholders. I would encourage the premier to lead his party to fulfill the promise to introduce single-member constituencies and implementation of one man, one vote prior to the 2017 election as stated in their manifesto,” Mr. Moxam said.
The premier did not respond to requests to amplify his comments on Cayman 27. It is not clear exactly who in the coalition government is against electoral reform, though there appears to be some debate over the exact form any new voting system should take.
During a discussion in the Legislative Assembly in February on a private members motion filed by East End MLA Arden McLean calling for single-member constituencies to be introduced within three months, Mr. McLaughlin suggested there were other options that could be considered to achieve equality of franchise.
“Where there are concerns, and I should say concerns not just by Independent members, but concerns by members of the Progressive team as well, they relate to consequences of single-member constituencies made up of such small numbers that it becomes incredibly easy for the outcome of an election to be wrongly influenced,” he said.
In Monday’s television interview he suggested that divisions over the issue could derail other important aspects of the government’s agenda.
The independent members of government – Tara Rivers, Winston Connolly and Roy McTaggart – released a joint statement on Wednesday urging the government to proceed with electoral reform.
The three Independents did not specifically commit to single-member constituencies but suggested inequalities in the current voting system should be dealt with before the 2017 election.
“As the minority members of the PPM led coalition Government, we are and have always been committed to the principle of equality of franchise and to implementing the concept of ‘One Man, One Vote’ in the Cayman Islands in time for the 2017 General Elections. We support, encourage and look forward to voting on electoral reform prior to the next General Election and support the Premier and the Government making this a priority,” the statement read.
Some of the divisions over the issue were highlighted in a debate in February in the Legislative Assembly on Mr. McLean’s motion, which was described by the premier at the time as a “political assault.”
The premier suggested that other options, for example 15 single-member constituencies rather than 18 or 19, should be considered and would still fulfill the manifesto promise to achieve equality of franchise.
But he said whatever form one man, one vote takes, there should be a consensus.
“This is a matter for the entire House and, indeed, more broadly, for the entire country to think about and to talk about.”
At the time, he suggested compromise could be reached in time for the issue to be resolved before 2017, but in Monday’s interview he suggested this may not be possible.
In his statement on Tuesday, Mr. Moxam acknowledged that the government has other important concerns to deal with.
He had previously stated that he was not overly concerned about the lack of progress on the issue and agreed that government should focus on the economy, getting unemployed Caymanians back to work and dealing with crime as more urgent priorities – so long as they dealt with electoral reform in time for the next election.
He said Tuesday that failure to fulfill that pledge would damage the credibility of the government.
“The Chamber supports the introduction of one person, one vote and single-member constituencies for all electoral districts in the Cayman Islands. A small constituency with a single member, as opposed to multiple members, encourages a stronger connection between representative and constituent and increases accountability. Single-member constituencies better serve every citizen and guarantee equality.”
Kent McTaggart, one of the campaigners for one man, one vote in 2012, said the people’s will is glaringly evident.
He said, “Given support the PPM had for OMOV during the referendum of 2012 and the campaign promises of Alden and the rest of the PPM, I fully expected him to have kept his word to the people of the Cayman Islands. I would also expect that the voices of support within the Legislative Assembly would have demanded that he do as the voters mandated and not deny the citizens of Cayman the most basic of rights, and that is the right to equality.”