Warning independent Cayman Islands lawmakers not to take local voters “for fools,” Premier Alden McLaughlin directed verbal barbs Friday at two Legislative Assembly members who left his government backbench in late 2015 and early 2016.
The premier steered clear of directly criticizing long-serving Bodden Town MLA Anthony Eden, who, Mr. McLaughlin believes, left the party out of personal conviction. Mr. Eden opposed the Progressives party stance, or lack thereof, on legalizing civil unions.
“We know full well his conviction and the basis on which he departed,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “Everybody else is still speculating why the other two left. I can only believe that they think it’s a better place for them politically.”
The “other two” referenced by the premier are Bodden Town MLA Alva Suckoo and George Town MLA Winston Connolly.
Mr. Suckoo, a former Progressives member, also criticized the government for not taking a strong stand against civil unions and same-sex marriage and went independent in late December. Mr. Connolly, the only independent MLA left in George Town, departed in January, voicing a general concern about party politics.
Mr. McLaughlin said he views the moves as nods to the members’ personal political ambition instead of serving out the remainder of their terms with the government bench.
“Having contributed to all that the government has done and achieved …. [they] really expected the people of this country – you take them for that big a fool? – to come down here now in June and say … ‘don’t mind what the minster of finance has said and the premier has said. This is a bad budget, this is a bad government … they don’t care about you, they don’t care about unemployment,’” Mr. McLaughlin said.
“All of a sudden, everything the government has done is bad and wrong. Unless I know nothing about the politics of this country, you have a hard sell to convince the people out there that you who were here and part of this are now better placed over there, in the opposition to help them.”
The political opposition, which Mr. McLaughlin described as “disunited and dysfunctional,” now has eight members, including independents and members of the Cayman Islands Democratic Party. Mr. McLaughlin’s government bench has nine members.
Mr. Connolly responded to Mr. McLaughlin’s comments Tuesday, indicating the premier is within his rights to say anything he wants in the House.
“I’ll continue to give my objective perspective on this side for the benefit of all Caymanians for as long as the people of George Town want me,” Mr. Connolly said. “I’ll always support what I believe is in their best interests, and criticize what isn’t, as well as give my opinion – that’s what I was elected to do.”
Mr. Connolly said he was elected with as strong a mandate as most Progressives MLAs “when you look at the number of votes from the last election.”
“That means there’s a nearly equal amount of people in George Town that believed in what independents were saying and who wanted a difference in opinion and perspective,” Mr. Connolly said. “I’ll continue to listen to them and speak for them while I occupy their real estate in George Town and apologize to no one but them for anything I say or do whilst acting on their behalf.”
Mr. Suckoo said Tuesday that he did not want to engage in a political “back and forth” with the premier.
“Nobody can challenge that I have remained consistent on the key issues of employment, crime, voter equality, discrimination against Caymanians, issues affecting our young people, our disappearing middle class and education, in particular the need for technical and vocational education and training,” he said. “I knew my move to join Mr. Eden on the opposition bench would be met with criticism and that I would be attacked for it. I know within my heart that I did the right thing.
“I put selfish political ambitions to one side and took a leap of faith for the people I represent. I love these islands dearly and I feel that if I continue to put God and country first, my contributions will bear fruit in the future. I hold no ill will towards the Premier or his government and will continue to positively and without malice serve our people.”
Mr. McLaughlin said on Friday that he, and voters, may not be sure what to believe from the two MLAs.
“I am listening intently to hear … why they expect to be re-elected,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “Bear in mind where they’ve just come from and ask yourself which story you want to believe … the one they’ve been telling you for the last two and a half years or the one they’re telling you now.”