The five independent members of the Legislative Assembly will begin hosting a series oftown hall-style meetings this week aimed at bringing voters up to speed on a number of issues parliament will consider when it meets next month.
Just do not call these members a political party.
“As of now, no,” said Bodden Town MLA Alva Suckoo. “We’re just working together.”
The public is invited to the series of meetings, the first of which is scheduled for Monday night in East End. Other meetings are scheduled between Tuesday and Sept. 28 in North Side, Savannah, South Sound, West Bay, Cayman Brac and the Seafarers Hall in George Town. All meetings are set to begin at 8 p.m.
The independent members have held separate community meetings periodically over the last few years, including North Side MLA Ezzard Miller’s district council gatherings, East End MLA Arden McLean’s district meetings, and district “yard” meetings Mr. Suckoo and Bodden Town MLA Anthony Eden have hosted from time to time. George Town MLA Winston Connolly has also held community meetings from time to time, independently of the Progressives.
However, political observers have noted the group acting more in unison of late, including bringing a motion seeking a referendum on same-sex unions to the Legislative Assembly for the next session. All five MLAs signed the motion and are now attending informational district gatherings together.
Among the matters up for discussion at the meetings, according to an announcement last week, are the referendum, the recently revised Legal Practitioners Bill, the Elections Bill, education and employment and an item noted as “the threat to our historic beach accesses.”
The proposed changes to the Elections Bill, bringing it into line with Cayman’s new single-member constituency voting system, may have some effect on the independents if they do decide to join together to contest the next ballot.
According to the rewritten section 22 of the Elections Bill: “Any group of persons whose activities indicate they come together to contest an election, shall register as a political party.”
In circumstances where such a group carries out activities that “indicate that they have come together to contest an election,” the supervisor of elections may conduct an investigation to determine whether the group’s activities indicate that it is, in fact, a political party. If the supervisor determines this is the case, the supervisor will then designate the group as a political party – with or without its consent, the bill states.
“Where a group of nominated candidates designated as a political party are aggrieved by the designation, that group of nominated candidates may, within seven days of the notification of the designation, appeal to the Grand Court against the decision of the supervisor [of elections],” the bill states. In such a case, the Grand Court would be required to hear the appeal within 14 days. No appeal can be made of the Grand Court’s decision, according to the bill.
The determination regarding what is and is not a political party is important, mainly for financial reasons during the course of an election. Independent candidates are allowed to spend more money on their campaigns individually during the six weeks between nomination day and election day ($42,000 maximum under the amendment bill), while political party candidates can spend less individually ($36,000 as proposed under the new bill.)
Mr. Suckoo said he and other former Progressives-party backbench members Winston Connolly and Mr. Eden were aware of the changes the ruling government wanted to bring for some time, since they were discussed years ago in the Progressives caucus. He said the designation of political parties is probably necessary when it comes to money spent on campaigns and who is spending it.
“The line that has to be drawn is at public resources and funding,” he said. “I’m not shocked this bill was brought forward, it’s just a matter of how you prove [a group is a political party].”
The Bodden Town MLA suggests that different spending limits for independent candidates and party candidates should be made the same under the revised Elections Bill.
Since breaking with the Progressives-led administration in late 2015/early 2016, Messrs. Suckoo, Eden and Connolly have maintained independent stances in the assembly, refusing to join the opposition Cayman Islands Democratic Party or to form their own opposition party. The group has generally supported tighter immigration controls and increased hiring of Caymanian workers, advocated for the same-sex union referendum, and supported the move toward a one man, one vote political system, although in slightly different forms.