There is no particular reason to believe that the creation of single-member voting districts under the “one man, one vote” system will permanently enshrine the two-party political system in the Cayman Islands, the chair of the Electoral Boundary Commission said Monday.
Responding to a press question during a public meeting at Mary Miller Hall, Chair Lisa Handley stated her belief that single-member constituencies – particularly in an island state as small as Cayman – would make it more attractive for underfunded independent candidates to seek elected office.
“In single-member constituencies, it’s much easier for independents who don’t have any party ties to run [for office] because the number of voters you have to reach is smaller, it’s less expensive,” Ms. Handley said.
“Proportional representation has much stronger party systems,” she added, indicating that a proportional representative election system is not being considered for Cayman.
Proportional representative systems are based on the premise that all votes count, not just those that support the majority candidates. Under a proportional representation system, if a political party gets 20 percent of the vote, it would get roughly 20 percent of the eligible legislative seats.
Premier Alden McLaughlin, who attended Monday night’s meeting with four of his elected George Town colleagues, has often said that the Caribbean experience with single-member voting districts has almost uniformly led to the entrenchment of a two-party political system. However, he said Monday that is not the reason for the Progressives-led administration’s decision to move to single-member districts.
“There was a referendum held after a considerable groundswell of public opinion about the need to move to single-member constituencies,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “The Progressives administration is carrying through on what we believe to be an important campaign commitment.”
In most Caribbean countries with single-member voting districts, two major political parties have dominated for decades. In Jamaica’s 2011 election, for instance, the People’s National Party received about 53 percent of the vote, with 47 percent of the vote going to the Jamaica Labour Party. Four other political parties that contested the election received only about 1,000 votes among them, out of more than 800,000 cast.
In the U.K., three parties split the majority of seats in the House of Commons, requiring two diametrically opposed groups, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democratic parties, to form a coalition government. “That is much more the exception than the rule,” Mr. McLaughlin said.
The Cayman Islands has been a democracy for more than 150 years, but the political party system here did not officially come into being until 2001, when what was referred to locally as a “coup” led to a change in government and fostered the beginnings of the then-United Democratic Party and the People’s Progressive Movement, now called the Progressives.
Prior to the last decade, governments formed “teams” of like-minded individuals. While some pundits and modern-day lawmakers have referred to those teams as political parties in all but name, they were not designated as such.
Where’s the majority?
Aside from the development of the political party system, some attendees at Monday’s public meeting were concerned about what might happen in small, 1,000-voter constituencies where several candidates ran and the one with the largest number of votes was elected, regardless of whether they received a majority of 50 percent-plus-one votes.
“You are in an enclave, you have 200 people who like you, you get into the legislature without any experience or anything, but you get there just because enough people like you,” said Rudolph Brandt, who attended Monday’s meeting. “People who have nothing of worth to offer the people but [are elected] merely because [they are] popular in some sort of enclave somewhere.”
Other attendees raised questions about the election of individuals who did not receive at least a majority of votes in their own districts.
“We’ve ended up with representatives in some districts that poll less than 30 percent [in the election],” said George Town resident Billy Adam. “If you’ve polled 30 percent, 70 percent of the [voting] population said ‘I don’t want you.’”
Ms. Handley admitted that could occur in a “first-past-the-post” system such as Cayman uses, meaning no runoff elections are held. However, she said, it also occurs under the current multimember election system.
“What you’re describing is not something you can achieve [under the current system],” she said.