During his contribution to the budget debate in Legislative Assembly last week, East End MLA Arden McLean expressed frustration over the government’s unwillingness to fund some of the needed projects in his district.
Despite bringing up the matters in the quarterly Cabinet meetings he has the constitutional right to attend, and despite the fact that the projects would not require huge amounts of money, he couldn’t get the government to move forward.
Such is the plight of an independent representative in a single-member constituency when the elected member is not a part of the sitting government.
As a lone wolf, Mr. McLean is in the position of either begging or biting for the needs of his constituency. Frankly, he has our sympathy, as does his other single-member “best-bud” Ezzard Miller, who can’t get much either for his district of North Side. As a political rule, lone wolves might howl, but unless they travel in packs, they rarely bring back much in the way of spoils for their constituents.
If the Cayman Islands moves to single member constituencies, Mr. McLean and Mr. Miller may likely have other equally frustrated representatives with whom to commiserate, including elected members from the official opposition party.
One of the potential unintended consequences of adopting single-member constituencies is that successful candidates who aren’t part of the government may find it very difficult to get things done for their so-called “mini-districts.”
The reason is simple: The sitting government is likely to favor the people and the projects in the voting districts of its own members.
The 2010 Cayman Islands Electoral Boundary Commission stated that one of the major appeals of single-member voting districts was to facilitate a “readily identifiable representative to whom concerns can be addressed” and to maximize accountability of those representatives. In other words, if a particular constituency isn’t getting the things it wants or needs, the voters will know who to blame.
But there’s more to it. A spiteful sitting government could also plan to put needed, but unpopular, infrastructure, such as a new cargo dock, a new fuel storage facility, a composting/recycling center or even a new landfill, in independent constituencies. (At one point, there was actually talk among certain politicians of “dumping the dump” in the district of North Side as “payback” to Mr. Miller for one perceived transgression or another.)
In a country such as the Cayman Islands, where voters are used to the largesse lavished upon them by representatives who are part of the controlling government, lone wolves who come back to their districts empty-handed might find it difficult to be re-elected.
For this reason, single-member constituency regimes in small countries tend to support large, established political parties, at the expense of independent candidates.
According to a 2005 University of Essex study, in post-colonial countries where political parties are weakly entrenched, as they are in Cayman, the organizational capacity of an incumbent large party could very well be “in a position to generate support across the country, allowing it to overwhelm a poorly organized and dispersed opposition.” More ominously, it concluded that “over-large majorities can be expected to be delegitimizing and threatening to democracy.”
If one party were to gain dominance in the Cayman Islands, lone wolf independent representatives, such as Mr. McLean and Mr. Miller, could quickly find themselves at the top of the endangered species list.