Responds to allegations of political deception
Lambasting Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush and his “allies in the press” who he said were engaging in “myth-making,” Cayman Islands Premier Alden McLaughlin on Friday reiterated his support for a voting system change ahead of the 2017 general elections.
The Cayman Islands is seeking to redraw its six multimember voting districts, changing them to 18 single-member constituencies, meaning voters will get to choose only one candidate at election time.
Now, voters in George Town can vote up to six times for various candidates, while voters in Bodden Town and West Bay can select four apiece, and residents of the Sister Islands can choose two. Only the smaller districts of East End and North Side return one candidate each to the Legislative Assembly.
The new proposal will split Grand Cayman into 16 single-member districts and Cayman Brac and Little Cayman into two voting districts.
Mr. McLaughlin said his Progressives-led administration fully intends to implement one man, one vote in the form of single-member voting districts before the May 2017 elections.
“Apparently, the leader of the opposition is now gravely concerned at the prospect of facing an election based on single-member districts,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “I feel sorry for him, but that is a reality to which he must reconcile himself.”
The opposition Cayman Islands Democratic Party has started a petition drive urging local voters to tell the Progressives-led government they don’t support a change in the territory’s election system. Mr. Bush said Wednesday during his budget debate in the Legislative Assembly that he would continue to fight against a plan he believes is “not good for these islands.”
During Legislative Assembly statements, Mr. Bush said he believed Mr. McLaughlin has never truly wished to change Cayman’s voting system.
“You know that you really don’t support this change,” Mr. Bush said, speaking directly to Mr. McLaughlin. “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 said these kinds of statements were belied by the Progressives’ long support of voting equality in Cayman.
“I helped to draft the one man, one vote/single-member constituencies referendum petition [in 2012] and was amongst the very first to sign it,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “I, together with the Progressives, worked to assist the one man, one vote movement and indeed hosted a strategy weekend … on how to move this forward and organize at the grassroots level.”
Mr. McLaughlin said that after the 2012 referendum failed, his government was elected in May 2013 and pledged to implement the voting change as one of its campaign promises. He said the proposal was not without concern, even among members of his own party.
“I and others did hear from some individuals in the public their concerns around having constituencies that are deemed too small and that could lead to individuals getting elected on a few hundred votes,” the premier said. “That concern is a real one.”
However, proposals to mitigate that by reducing the number of single-member districts and adding several “at large” voting constituencies – meaning the entire Cayman Islands citizenry would vote for certain representatives who run in those positions – did not take hold with the voters, Mr. McLaughlin said.
“So, the idea of at-large candidates was dropped,” he said.
The alternate proposal, made by Mr. McLaughlin early last year, was seen by some as government backing away from a campaign promise, but the premier said that wasn’t the case and that an attempt to seek political compromise had been misinterpreted.
“We are delivering on our plan for electoral reform,” the premier said. “No amount of myth-making by the leader of the opposition or his allies in the press will change that fact.”
Concerns regarding the size of single-member districts were raised again last 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.”