With just nine members on the ruling government bench, the Progressives-led coalition was left to consider this week whether it would seek to muddle through the next 14 months via the slimmest of majorities or call for elections ahead of the usual May 2017 date.
Premier Alden McLaughlin, the Progressives party leader, said he would not speculate about what decisions the government might make. He indicated to the Cayman Compass this week that dissolving parliament and calling for early general elections is one option – an option that might have to be taken if the current government loses one more member.
The road will not be easy for the Progressives-led government even if it maintains its current majority membership.
“It will be hell for [Premier McLaughlin] in the next year with barely no backbench,” Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush said Wednesday. “We will be a formidable group for him to face. Although I can only speak for the official opposition, the independents and [MLAs] Ezzard [Miller] and Arden [McLean] are not weaklings. We must consider the country first.”
Meanwhile, opposition independent members of the Legislative Assembly, including Mr. McLean, Mr. Miller, Alva Suckoo and Anthony Eden, were to meet Thursday with Governor Helen Kilpatrick, who would have to approve the call for early elections if one were made, and no party could gain a majority of assembly seats. The independents are adamantly opposed to the prospect of elections prior to May 2017 and intend to tell Ms. Kilpatrick about their views.
“We think it’s ridiculous and none of us support it,” Bodden Town MLA Alva Suckoo said of the prospect of a 2016 vote, which would likely have to be held under the former multimember district voting system, not the single-member districts lawmakers agreed to last year.
Political insiders noted that the meeting with the governor might serve another purpose: To nominate Mr. McLean as the country’s new opposition leader, replacing Mr. Bush. Mr. Bush’s Cayman Islands Democratic Party holds three assembly seats, while the independent opposition membership holds five in total including George Town MLA Winston Connolly.
Contacted Wednesday, Mr. McLean declined to comment. Mr. Suckoo denied that the meeting was being held for that purpose.
“It’s just to discuss the possibility of early elections,” he said. Mr. Suckoo, along with Mr. Eden and Mr. Connolly, have previously denied that they intend to join any political party ahead of the next general election.
For now, Mr. McLaughlin’s Progressives-led coalition maintains a 10-person majority out of 18 elected Legislative Assembly members. That majority includes Speaker of the House Juliana O’Connor-Connolly who does not get a vote except in the case of a tie-break situation.
In order for government to continue meeting, all nine remaining members on the government benches, including all seven ministers and both remaining backbench members, MLAs Roy McTaggart and Joey Hew, would have to attend the full length of every meeting. In practice, legislature members often step out to take calls, meet with constituents and attend to ministerial business while parliament is in session.
In a scenario with a nine-person government bench, opposition members could scuttle any meeting if only one member of the government bench stepped out. Parliamentary rules state that a quorum of 10 members, not counting the Speaker, must be present in order for a legislative meeting to proceed.
One way to avoid a nine-member government bench would be to have current Speaker O’Connor-Connolly step down and take up her seat with the ruling party. That would require another person to be named as Speaker. It could also require one of the current government ministers to be replaced if Ms. O’Connor-Connolly moved to a minister’s position.
On Wednesday, Ms. O’Connor-Connolly said she would “not be drawn into that debate” over whether she might leave the Speaker’s post.
Other options for a non-elected member to become Speaker of the House have been explored. Former Speaker Linford Pierson’s name was mentioned as a possible replacement for Ms. O’Connor-Connolly, but Premier McLaughlin said last week that was “not within his contemplation.”
Mr. Pierson, contacted for comment Wednesday, said he did not wish to put himself forward for the job. However, he said he would be willing to assist the government if the need arose.
Mr. Pierson said he had not received any official contact regarding the matter from members of Cabinet.
Mr. Eden, the veteran Bodden Town MLA who currently is the House’s Deputy Speaker, could also be tapped for the Speaker’s post. Mr. Eden did not respond to Compass queries seeking comment Wednesday.