Facing pressure from one of its ministers, as well as from opposition politicians, the Progressives-led government on Friday appeared ready to abandon efforts to legally force the registration of groups believed to be operating as political parties before the May 2017 general election.

The initial draft of the Elections Bill [2016] set out a detailed process by which groups believed to be operating as political parties were required to register with the Elections Office, even if members of the groups did not believe themselves to be a political party, in the weeks before Election Day.

During the legislative debate on the proposal Friday evening, Education Minister Tara Rivers indicated she would support the draft of the Elections Bill with the “clear understanding that there will be changes as necessary” to the legislation during the assembly’s committee review of the Elections Bill.

Deputy Governor Franz Manderson released a proposed amendment Friday night that, if approved, would delete the entire section of the bill related to the political party registration requirement. The replacement amendment states: “A group of persons who come together to contest an election shall be eligible to register as a political party.”

The initial version of the bill stated: “Any group of persons whose activities indicate they come together to contest an election, shall register as a political party.”

A separate amendment seeking to give the Cayman Islands Supervisor of Elections the power to declare that a political party had come together was proposed for a different section of the bill. However, that section governs only how much money candidates can spend during the six-week run-up to the general election. If a candidate is declared a political party member, that person would have a lower spending cap during the six-week period.

“There are elements in this bill designed to kill independents…because the popularity of independents is rising.”

Additional amendments were expected to be proposed for the Elections Bill, but the text of those was not available by press time Sunday.

Minister Rivers, an independent, did not specifically address what changes to the Elections Bill she wanted; she merely indicated that she “looks forward” to seeing the committee-stage amendments to the bill.

Opposition party lawmakers – including the assembly’s five independent opposition members – stated more directly their dislike for the political parties registration proposal.

“This is the most disgusting piece of legislation I’ve ever seen come here,” East End MLA Arden McLean said.

“[The Elections Bill] will damage a number of independent voices in this country,” George Town MLA Winston Connolly said, adding that he hoped the bill would not deter any independents seeking to enter the campaign for the May 24, 2017 general election.

Nothing has been decided yet. The Legislative Assembly is expected to debate proposed amendments to the Elections Bill this week.

Any amendments made to the Elections Bill in the committee stage will not affect changes made to the one man, one vote system Cayman is putting in place ahead of the May election, Deputy Governor Manderson said. Mr. Manderson said Caymanians will vote – for the first time – in 19 political districts or constituencies as defined by last year’s Electoral Boundary Commission.

Mr. Manderson also said the territory is expected to have more than 20,000 people registered to vote in the general election for the first time in its history.

Coalition for Cayman

Premier Alden McLaughlin conceded Friday that the initial draft of the Elections Bill may have gone a bit far in seeking to regulate the formation of political parties.

“This is the most disgusting piece of legislation I’ve ever seen come here,” East End MLA Arden McLean said.

Mr. McLaughlin said the amendments made public Friday would merely seek to regularize campaign financing rules to prevent groups of like-minded individuals who have a similar campaign platform, but who are not declared officially to be a political party, from having a financial advantage in the weeks before the election.

The premier opined during his debate that this had occurred with the political group Coalition for Cayman during the 2013 general election. Representatives of the coalition, often referred to as C4C, have always denied political party status and said the group simply supported various independent candidates seeking political office.

Premier McLaughlin has long held the view that political party platforms and candidates should be well known and stated before a general election “so the country knows what it is voting for and knows who the leader [of the government] is doing to be.”

“I lived through the 2000 elections …. where a bunch of independents were elected and sat down, had not done any negotiating [before the election] …. That government lasted one year,” Mr. McLaughlin said.

Bodden Town MLA Alva Suckoo said Friday that he believed the Elections Bill was seeking to respond to what the Progressives-led government perceived as “a threat,” with independent candidates’ hold in the Legislative Assembly going from one member in 2009 to six members currently [including the five opposition independents and Ms. Rivers].

“There are elements in this bill designed to kill independents … because the popularity of independents is rising,” Mr. Suckoo said.

Mr. Manderson, a civil servant, denied that the government’s aim was to “kill” anyone in the political arena.

“It is about campaign finance and … to ensure equality across the spectrum,” the deputy governor said.

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  1. Whether this bill would have the chance to become cemented, it would not have made a difference; simply because candidates would have found a way of chipping away to their advantage.
    It does not matter that we have a host of independent runners, people have already, seven months prior election, deciding who they will be voting for, and outside of that, will still be travelling from one constituency, and one district to the other giving support to candidates in their original parties.
    Nothing is going to hinder the underground party politics that is already brewing. One thing I am certain is that all candidates from all constituencies are going to find themselves working much harder for a vote because now that it is One Man One Vote, people will be holding unto their X for daily life.