Government caught off guard by MLA’s departure

The ruling Progressives government coalition has been left with a bare majority of nine MLAs on its side of the Legislative Assembly, not counting the Speaker of the House, with the departure of George Town MLA Winston Connolly on Monday.

Mr. Connolly confirmed Tuesday that he would sit in the opposition ranks when the assembly meets in February. He said he did not intend to join either the opposition Cayman Islands Democratic Party or any “independent groups” that might form during the remainder of his term.

“I will not be joining the official or independent opposition groups and will continue to support the government on any proposal it brings which I believe is in the best interests of the people,” Mr. Connolly said.

Premier Alden McLaughlin indicated Monday evening, following the release of Mr. Connolly’s statement, that he remained uncertain about whether the George Town MLA had actually departed from the government bench.

Mr. McLaughlin said he had several private meetings with Mr. Connolly and noted his public statements following those meetings that Mr. Connolly indicated he was not leaving government.

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In response to further questions about Mr. Connolly’s departure from government, Premier McLaughlin said in an email Tuesday, “I will let the media have a considered response in due course, just not today.”

It is possible for the ruling government coalition to carry on with nine members in the Legislative Assembly, according to the Cayman Islands Constitutional Commission. The split currently would put nine government members on the bench, including independent Minister Tara Rivers. Speaker of the House Juliana O’Connor-Connolly makes the 10th member of the Progressives-led coalition, as Speaker she is unable to vote unless it is to break a tie vote.

On the opposition benches, there will now be eight MLAs, including three members of McKeeva Bush’s Cayman Islands Democratic Party and five independents, including recent Progressives party deserters Anthony Eden and Alva Suckoo.

Constitutional Commission Chairman David Ritch indicated in a public statement earlier this month that the legislature could maintain a 10-member quorum to carry on meetings even with nine members on the government bench. The reason is that someone in the opposition would have to show up to object to the meeting of a nine-member government, meaning that person’s arrival would fulfill the 10-person quorum requirement.

However, both Mr. Ritch and Opposition Leader Bush noted that a number of operational problems arise for a nine-member government bench.

One option for the Progressives-led coalition could be to put Speaker O’Connor-Connolly back on the government side of the House. In that case, another Speaker would have to be chosen from inside or outside the assembly.

Mr. Bush applauded Mr. Connolly’s move to the opposition benches. “He is doing the right thing in being a true independent,” Mr. Bush said. “The country is better off with this move.”

Mr. Bush also noted that there are now more independent members on the opposition benches than there are members of his own opposition party. However, he did not believe there would be a change in opposition leadership.

“All three members [referring to Mr. Eden, Mr. Suckoo and Mr. Connolly] have said they are not joining anyone,” he said. “We will work for the betterment of our people.”

Independent legislator Ms. Rivers, for whose Ministry of Education, Employment and Gender Mr. Connolly was councillor, said she respects his decision and understood that his move was “in the best interests of his constituents.”

She added that she considered herself an independent in the Progressives-led government and would continue in her role.

Asked for his reaction to Mr. Connolly’s move, government minister Osbourne Bodden said he was disappointed and “didn’t see any reason” for Mr. Connolly’s decision. “It makes no sense,” he said. “We have a good government; we’ve had no major issues.

Stating that he considers the Progressives still have a strong government, he added, “Politics is a funny business.”

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