OMOV approved, but MLA’s anti-corruption motion in doubt
A legislative motion that advocates the enactment of term limits and seeks to outlaw “vote buying” in the Cayman Islands may not see the light of day following government’s approval of sweeping voting changes ahead of the May 2017 general election.
George Town MLA Winston Connolly said earlier this year that government should put the two measures in place prior to the election to ensure political campaigns going forward do not become an exercise in handouts designed to entrench representatives in small voting districts.
“In my experience … you don’t buy any elections. You may influence a few votes here or there … but you don’t buy elections,” Premier Alden McLaughlin said in response to Mr. Connolly’s concerns. “None of us can afford to help all who come to us on a daily basis.”
Cayman Islands lawmakers on Monday approved a government motion to accept a change to single-member voting districts in a 13-3 vote. The move will change the territory’s six multimember voting districts to 19 single-member constituencies, each of which will have between 500 and 1,100 voters.
Speaking of his proposed private members’ motion in May, Mr. Connolly said: “What I … have found in my two years in politics is that, on top of social services, the norm is to go to your politician for a ‘top up’ so you don’t have to go through the proper channels and that, in my view, is wrong. These are not loans. It’s the monthly norm that politicians give, a lot of times to the same people over and over, from their own salary so that they can pay utilities, buy food, pay mortgages and school fees, etc.
“My own view is that it serves to absolve those politicians that do hand out money from having to cure the issue for another month. It’s shut-up money.”
During Monday’s debate on single-member voting districts, which Mr. Connolly supported, he said government should enact three-term limits for lawmakers. In other words, someone who is elected to three, four-year terms in the legislature would have to sit out one term. Following that they would be eligible to seek office again, the backbench MLA proposed. As time goes on under single-member voting districts, Mr. Connolly said his concern is that entrenched lawmakers will find it easier to “buy” a small number of voters to ensure they stay in office.
“I saw firsthand during the last election, money being handed out,” he said. “Let’s not fool ourselves into thinking elections can’t be bought. [The buyers] might not get the results they’re paying for … but it doesn’t mean they won’t try it. “[One man, one vote] is one step closer to true democracy … but we still need checks and balances,” Mr. Connolly said.
Premier McLaughlin said during Monday’s debate on the redistricting proposal that Mr. Connolly’s view was somewhat naive.
The premier said lawmakers must draw the line between helping constituents in their districts and obvious vote-buying attempts.
“In cases where there is genuine need, and I have the means to help, I have always tried to do so. I hope we’re not going to reach the point where it is illegal for a representative to help someone in the community. When you’ve been around for a while, you’re able to make distinctions between what is genuine need and what is not,” he said.
Regarding term limits, the premier warned that Cayman – with a population of fewer than 60,000 people, nearly half of them non-nationals – has a limited voting population and an even smaller number of qualified representatives to stand for office.
“I wonder why we would be keen to term out of contention experienced representatives to replace them with green, brand new representatives,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “Surely the job of an elected representative cannot be the only job in the world where less experience is better than more experience.”
Mr. Connolly said he was still trying to get his members’ motion through the Progressive-led government caucus [governing council], but that he intended to bring it to the Legislative Assembly if and when approval was granted.