Five independent Legislative Assembly members, three of whom recently left the ruling government, have asked Cayman Islands Governor Helen Kilpatrick to clarify her position on the prospect of calling early elections.
The independent MLAs, who consist of North Side’s Ezzard Miller, East End’s Arden McLean, Bodden Town’s Anthony Eden and Alva Suckoo and George Town’s Winston Connolly, signed a letter dated Jan. 28 requesting Governor Kilpatrick provide “an explanation of the measures you propose to take if the possibility of an early general election arises.”
The potential for a 2016 general election, rather than the regularly scheduled May 2017 vote, was raised by Premier Alden McLaughlin last month as one possibility following the departures of Messrs. Eden, Suckoo and Connolly from the government bench. Mr. Eden and Mr. Suckoo also left the ruling Progressives party.
The independent members noted that there appears to be no reason for an early vote at this stage, since Mr. McLaughlin’s Progressives-led coalition maintains a majority in the House, with 10 of the 18 members of the Legislative Assembly. Moreover, the independents said it appeared the Cayman Islands Constitution only grants the power to call early elections to the governor herself, and said that power is only to be used if no single political party or like-minded group can form a majority. “We wish to record our strenuous objection to the utterances of the premier regarding the tacit threat of an early general election, especially given the construct of membership of the Legislative Assembly and the precedent such a decision would set for future governments with a bare or slim majority,” the Jan. 28 letter read.
“We would respectfully caution the premier that to unnecessarily alarm the populace with the specter of an early election, which the country is not prepared for … for motives which are uncertain, is tantamount to a dereliction of his overarching duty to lead the people of this country. We believe that it is the fundamental duty of the premier to promote the stability of this country rather than to, apparently for reasons of practical politics, menace the population with an uncertain future.”
Contacted for comment Friday, representatives of Governor Kilpatrick’s office confirmed she had attended a meeting with several MLAs regarding the early elections issue. The governor’s office had not responded to the MLAs Jan. 28 letter by press time Sunday.
On Friday, Premier McLaughlin said he had not asked the governor to dissolve the Legislative Assembly, but noted that was an option that must be considered under the current circumstances.
“It is ironic that those who have created the current instability in government, either by crossing the [Legislative Assembly] floor or inveigling others to do so, now fear the outcome of the democratic process of elections,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “We who are elected owe a duty to the country and our people to provide sound, honest, selfless leadership. This duty must override personal agendas and individual political ambition.”
The Cayman Compass pressed Mr. McLaughlin Friday on the question of whether he intended to seek early elections by declaring that he could no longer effectively govern with a nine-member government bench, not counting Progressives’ member Juliana O’Connor-Connolly, who currently serves as Speaker of the House. The premier declined to comment.
Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush, who said last week that the premier would face “hell” if he tried to run government with a nine-member bench, has not stated his position on the prospect of early elections.
If the Progressives-led coalition was to lose another member, it would no longer maintain a parliamentary majority equalling 10 of 18 assembly seats. However, even in that scenario, the independents argued a “caretaker government” might be formed to see out the remainder of the 2013-2017 term.
The precedent was set in December 2012 when former Premier Bush was ousted via a no confidence vote and a minority government of just five members was appointed with the approval of then-Governor Duncan Taylor.
However, at that time, there were only three months to go before parliament was dissolved ahead of the May 2013 general election. Mr. Bush also alleged publicly that the five-member “minority government” was illegal, although he did not challenge its formation in court.
It was suggested last week that Friday’s meeting among the independent lawmakers signaled a changing of the guard in Cayman’s opposition leader post.
However, according to MLAs who attended the meeting, the matter was never raised and, as far as they were concerned, Mr. Bush remained the official opposition leader.
“It wasn’t even really discussed,” Mr. Suckoo said Friday.
The five independent assembly members are now greater in number than the three elected members of Mr. Bush’s Cayman Islands Democratic Party. However, the constitution requires a new party or political group leader to approach the governor and request that they be made opposition leader. No such request was made Friday, the members said.