Although Premier Alden McLaughlin has not officially called for early elections, the Cayman Islands governor’s office has confirmed that it will give “great weight” to such a request if the premier resolves to take such a step.
The governor’s office also confirmed the next election in the islands will be held under single-member constituencies – regardless of when it might occur.
Deputy Governor Franz Manderson told the Cayman Compass last week that he had responded, as part of his duties as acting governor while Governor Helen Kilpatrick was off island, to a group of five independent lawmakers who expressed concern about the prospect of an early vote.
The five independent MLAs – 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 independent members noted that there appeared to be no reason for an early vote at this stage, since Premier McLaughlin’s Progressives-led coalition maintains a 10-member majority in the Legislative Assembly. The members 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.
According to the governor’s office response, sent to the independents on Feb. 5: “Apart from defections of members from the government side that may cause a premier to speak to the governor about potential early elections, there may very well be other reasons why, even with a clear majority, he may wish to seek early elections if, in his opinion, it has become impossible for his government to properly function.
“In such circumstances there may be a compelling constitutional imperative to consider dissolving the Legislative Assembly to pave the way for early or fresh elections. Good administration would require that the governor gives great weight to such a request and that barring compelling counter reasons, may be minded to agree to it.”
The letter clarified that any such decision ultimately rests with the governor.
“[Independent lawmakers] have asserted that the governor has an obligation to consult all member of the Legislative Assembly before agreeing to call an early election,” the governor’s office letter read. “The constitution has no such requirement.”
Independent MLA Mr. Suckoo confirmed that, while noting the premier had not called for an early vote at this stage, Mr. Manderson’s letter also indicated that any general election held would have to be done under the “one man, one vote” system legislators approved last year.
“That was a key point for us,” Mr. Suckoo said.
In January, following the departure of Messrs. Eden, Suckoo and Connolly from his Progressives party-led government backbench, Mr. McLaughlin noted he was considering calling for a 2016 general election, possibly as early as April or May this year. Those elections, if they were held that early, were thought to be too soon to allow the Elections Office enough time to hold a vote under the new single-member constituent system.
Elections Supervisor Wesley Howell, in his first election on the job, has said that holding an election under a new voting system is much more complicated and time-consuming than using the former multimember voting district system.
Legislators late last year approved a change in the territorial voting maps, dividing Cayman’s six multimember voting districts into 19 separate single-member constituencies.
Mr. Howell said that the legislative order, agreed by Governor Kilpatrick, is the law of the land. However, he indicated time requirements to properly hold such a public vote under the new system would not be met if the elections are held in the coming months.
“The new single-member constituencies and revised boundaries will require significant public awareness and education so that voters are clear on where they will be voting and how to vote in the polls,” Mr. Howell said. “Historically, general elections have taken upwards of 12-15 months to plan and execute.”
Extra time will be needed to train returning officers who manage the elections process and to verify voters addresses and other such routine details.
“I fully expect a new single-member constituency election will take longer to implement than the current multimember constituency election,” he said.