The departure of long-serving Bodden Town MLA Anthony Eden from the Progressives-led government last week sparked a behind-the-scenes political scramble and was viewed by some Cayman politics insiders as a potential foreshadowing of others leaving the Progressives party.
Mr. Eden, 70, said Thursday that he would become an independent lawmaker and sit on the other side of the Legislative Assembly when the House next meets in the new year. His decision, he said, was the result of government’s proposal to change the Cayman Islands Immigration Law regulations to allow non-working members of same-sex couples to live with their partners as dependants.
“I will take this opportunity to say to this House and my constituents I will no longer sit as a part of the PPM [People’s Progressive Movement] backbench,” Mr. Eden said in the assembly on Thursday evening. “In the next meeting, I will sit on the other side of the floor.”
Progressives party leader Premier Alden McLaughlin said Friday that Mr. Eden’s departure left him disappointed, although it was “not entirely unexpected.”
Mr. Eden’s move does not disrupt the overall balance of power within the Cayman Islands political arena. The Bodden Town MLA joins independent Legislative Assembly members Ezzard Miller and Arden McLean on the opposite side of the assembly floor, along with three opposition Cayman Islands Democratic Party members – including Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush.
That leaves the Progressives-led coalition government with 11 members, not counting Speaker of the House Juliana O’Connor-Connolly, who joined the Progressives in 2013, but who does not vote in House matters given her position as Speaker. That coalition includes three independent members, including Education Minister Tara Rivers, who were elected under the Coalition for Cayman group.
However, former Progressives insider Kenneth Bryan – who worked for Premier McLaughlin’s office until late 2014 – said he believed Bodden Town MLA Alva Suckoo would follow Mr. Eden to the opposition benches. Mr. Suckoo, a first-term representative, was “facing enormous pressure” to switch sides with three of his major political allies, Mr. Eden, Mr. Miller and Mr. McLean sitting across the aisle, Mr. Bryan said.
“If Alva leaves, the dominos will start to fall,” Mr. Bryan said, indicating his belief that independent George Town MLA Winston Connolly – fresh off a public spat with the premier over a private members’ motion he filed during the last assembly meeting – could also depart the government side.
Mr. Bryan’s view was backed by Chris Saunders, a Bodden Town political insider who has publicly stated he is supporting efforts to form a third political group ahead of the May 2017 general election. Mr. Saunders said Mr. Suckoo owed his political allegiance to Mr. Eden, who has long been the Progressives’ most popular political figure in the district.
Opposition Leader Bush, the longest-serving member of the Legislative Assembly, was also assessing the situation over the weekend.
“Government is still the government,” Mr. Bush said, “unless more of their members are like Anthony Eden and refuse to kowtow to the dictatorial leadership and leave on a matter of principle.
“[Mr. Eden] has spoken and he is a man of principle. He will be a real independent member [of the Legislative Assembly],” Mr. Bush said.
Premier McLaughlin offered no further comment regarding the political maneuvering, but instead heaped praise on the veteran Bodden Town MLA.
“Tony Eden has been, and will continue to be, an exceptional representative of the people of Bodden Town and an outstanding member of the Legislative Assembly,” Premier McLaughlin said. “I know he will continue to serve the people of these islands well, no matter where he sits in the House.”
Deputy Premier Moses Kirkconnell said Progressives members held a meeting Friday concerning Mr. Eden’s departure, but indicated he did not wish to say anything further on the matter beyond endorsing what Mr. McLaughlin had already said.
Neither Mr. Suckoo nor Mr. Connolly returned messages seeking comment regarding Mr. Eden’s departure on Friday or Saturday.
Mr. Eden left the Progressives party a few hours after Premier McLaughlin announced government’s intention to change Immigration Law regulations “as a matter of urgency” with regard to same-sex partners.
The “test case” for this issue, involves former Cayman Islands law school professor Leonardo Raznovich, whose application to remain in Cayman as a dependant of his male partner was denied by the Immigration Department. Since then, both Argentinian and British government officials have written to the Cayman Islands government urging them to reverse their position in the matter.
For now, Mr. McLaughlin said the change in immigration rules would not be expanded to a wholesale acceptance of civil unions in the law because he believes government has “no mandate” to do so.
However, the premier indicated Thursday that the times are changing: “This is a train that is not going to stop coming. It has long left the station.”
The civil unions issue is not the first public disagreement Mr. Eden had with the Progressives-led administration. In early 2014, Mr. Eden voted against the government, along with Mr. Suckoo, in favor of a private members’ motion that sought to force the introduction of “one man, one vote” in Cayman Islands elections.
Later in the year, Mr. Eden was vocal in his displeasure about the government introducing 30-year sentencing tariffs, as opposed to automatic life imprisonment, for convicted killers.
“All in the name of human rights,” Mr. Eden said at that time.