The opposition Cayman Islands Democratic Party has started a petition drive urging voters to tell the Progressives-led government they don’t support a change in the territory’s election system.
Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush said Wednesday in the budget debate in the Legislative Assembly that he would continue to fight against a plan he believed was “not good for these islands.” He said he would announce further details of the petition during a public meeting in Prospect Wednesday night.
Premier Alden McLaughlin has said his government intends to split the Cayman Islands into 18 voting districts, 16 on Grand Cayman and two on the Sister Islands, in time for the May 2017 general election. Now, Cayman voters cast ballots in six districts, with voters in the larger districts electing more representatives to the Legislative Assembly.
Mr. McLaughlin has previously said the current voting system is “blatantly unfair” and that he supports a move to “one man, one vote” via single-member constituent districts.
Mr. Bush challenged those statements Wednesday, stating his belief that Premier McLaughlin has never truly wished to change the territory’s voting system.
“I cannot support dividing this country up any more,” Mr. Bush said. “That cannot be the kind of participatory democracy we want and the premier knows that.”
“You know that you really don’t support this change,” Mr. Bush continued, speaking directly to Mr. McLaughlin, who had left the Legislative Assembly chamber at this point in the opposition leader’s debate. “We seldom see eye to eye on much, but you know in the deepest chambers of your conscience that we are both right in our opposition to one man, one vote.”
Mr. McLaughlin, during his budget policy address last week, said that implementing one man, one vote in the form of single-member constituencies would be another campaign promise kept by the Progressives- led government.
The premier has alluded to concern among his own political caucus that some form of “at-large” representation should be added to the single-member districts plan. At-large candidates would be elected by a vote of the entire island.
“This is the concern of the entire government team,” Mr. McLaughlin said last fall. “To split the Cayman Islands into 18 or 19 constituencies is going to result in such small constituencies, in many instances, that the result of the elections process could be easily manipulated.”
Those concerns were expounded on this week in a statement made to the Cayman Compass by George Town MLA Winston Connolly. Mr. Connolly said he was seeking the Progressives-led government’s support in introducing term limits for elected politicians, along with some way of stopping the political handouts currently being given to local voters on a perennial basis during election season.
“If the system that we currently have is perpetuated, we could see the control of certain boundaries [similar to] the garrison politics situation we see in Jamaica,” Mr. Connolly said. “It would be prudent to put in checks and balances now.
“If someone is very motivated to win at all costs, a smaller boundary will give them a great opportunity to ‘buy’ their seat. I would hope that it would not get to the stage where people take it upon themselves, out of patronage, to intimidate other voters to vote for a specific candidate or other candidates not to run in an election through force or threat.
“Term limits and illegal handout [laws] may curb or lessen the brunt of those who may be so inclined, but, at the very least, it will let those politicians who are in power know that they have a limited time to make things happen; that they will have to deal with jobs and immigration rather than simply throw money at a problem.”
Mr. Connolly said he would file a private members’ motion in the Legislative Assembly ahead of the September meeting if the government does not want to take up this issue on its own.
“We have to come together on topics that are universal and that affect people’s lives,” he said. “I don’t mind taking this forward, even if it’s just me. I was taught right from wrong and also that sometimes when you take a stand to do the right thing, it may only be you taking that stand. If it costs me my seat, that’s fine.”