At least four, and potentially five political coalitions or political parties are readying to contest the Cayman Islands general election on May 24.
Both major political parties, the Progressives (sometimes referred to as the People’s Progressive Movement) and the Cayman Democratic Party (formerly the United Democratic Party), intend to field a slate of candidates. As of Thursday, both groups were still formalizing their selections in as many of the 19 single-member constituencies as they can manage.
With the adoption of a one man, one vote system for the first time in the territory since the 1950s, at least two other affiliated political groups are forming, the Cayman Compass has learned. A third group could potentially stem from among candidates in the eastern districts.
The 2017 election map divides Grand Cayman into 17 Legislative Assembly constituencies, seven in George Town district, four in West Bay district, four in Bodden Town district, and one apiece for East End and North Side. Cayman Brac and Little Cayman will be divided into two districts, Cayman Brac West/Little Cayman and Cayman Brac East. Voters residing in each constituency will cast one ballot for the candidate of their choice.
Although a number of independent candidates have already declared specific constituencies in which they will run, the political parties have not settled on constituencies – in most cases – for their own candidates. The final constituencies for every political hopeful may not be known until candidate nomination day.
Casting further doubt over the political candidacies is the uncertainty of longtime political chiefs in the districts of George Town, Bodden Town and Cayman Brac. As of press time, neither George Town MLA and Planning Minister Kurt Tibbetts, nor Speaker of the House and Cayman Brac MLA Juliana O’Connor-Connolly, nor Bodden Town MLA Anthony Eden had confirmed their status for the election.
“Nomination day is March 29, you’ll find out then,” Mr. Tibbetts said when asked if he would seek re-election in May.
At his 62nd birthday party in West Bay on Jan. 20, the district’s political patriarch, Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush, spoke briefly about the Cayman Democratic Party’s plans for the election, which he said include supporting a number of independent political candidates.
Mr. Bush said he and other CDP members, MLAs Capt. Eugene Ebanks and Bernie Bush, would join former MLA John Jefferson Jr. to campaign in West Bay. Mr. Jefferson takes the place of former MLA Rolston Anglin in West Bay South. Mr. Anglin confirmed to the Compass this week that he would not be seeking election this year.
In George Town, Mr. Bush listed potential CDP candidates as former government Minister Mike Adam, businessman Jon Piercy and Dr. Darley Solomon. Mr. Piercy confirmed he did intend to run with the CDP, and Mr. Adam said he was “leaning towards it,” but had not yet confirmed. Dr. Solomon did not return calls or emails seeking comment.
Mr. Bush said he was also inclined to support George Town independents MLA Winston Connolly, Karin Thompson and Kenneth Bryan if they all choose to contest the election. Mr. Bryan is a confirmed candidate in George Town Central; Ms. Thompson, an attorney, is looking likely as a candidate in George Town North; Mr. Connolly, if he does seek re-election, has not confirmed which district he would contest.
In Bodden Town, Mr. Bush said he would support either veteran MLA Mr. Eden, an independent, or his successor if he chooses to retire. Mr. Bush said independent MLA Alva Suckoo would also get his support. Businessman Robert Bodden, a potential candidate in Bodden Town East, could also get CDP support if he runs, Mr. Bush said.
Mr. Suckoo, who has announced plans to run in the Newlands constituency of Bodden Town, will be supported by his running mate and former MLA, Gilbert McLean, who is contesting the legislative seat in Bodden Town West.
Both have the support of Mr. Eden, the district’s longtime political patriarch, and both are linked to a coalition of opposition MLAs who hosted a “road show” last fall before the October 2016 Legislative Assembly meeting.
Those MLAs, including North Side’s Ezzard Miller, East End’s Arden McLean, Mr. Connolly, Mr. Eden and Mr. Suckoo, as well as Gilbert McLean, spoke out during a series of public meetings against a number of proposals being brought to the assembly by the Progressives-led government.
It is also understood, based on statements from several political candidates, that some of the independent coalition’s members have approached other potential candidates. Those potential candidates include attorney Steve McField, Ms. Thompson and local businesswoman Sharon Roulstone.
Mr. McField, a founding member of the former United Democratic Party, confirmed that he “would not be standing” with the CDP if he does seek election to the House. Ms. Roulstone, a leader of the citizens group that advocated for one man, one vote in Cayman during 2011-2012, said she is also undecided on contesting the election. If Ms. Roulstone does run, she is expected to do so in George Town South.
The Tomlinson factor
A separate political group appears to be forming under the direction of former Chrissie Tomlinson Memorial Hospital owner Dr. Steve Tomlinson. When contacted last week, Dr. Tomlinson said he would not seek elected office, but that he is “encouraging good people to run” in the next election.
Dr. Tomlinson, who served as an MLA during the 1992-1996 National Team government, said he yearned for a return to the days of “team” politics that existed in the 1990s.
“We didn’t have to walk lock-step with what the rest of the team thought; [MLAs] represented the constituents,” Dr. Tomlinson said. “I urge voters in the upcoming election, don’t think about the party, think about the individual … which one can serve us best.”
Dr. Tomlinson hosted a retreat for potential candidates in November, attracting about 30 people. He has not publicly declared his support for any candidates in May, other than Mr. Bryan in George Town Central and potentially Ellio Solomon, who is expected to announce his candidacy in George Town West next week.
Another announced candidate, Kenrick Webster, who is running in George Town East, is believed to have Dr. Tomlinson’s support. Other candidates or potential candidates who could join with the Tomlinson team include former port director Paul Hurlston, banking compliance specialist Laura Young, newspaper executive and author Catherine Tyson and businessman/promoter Matthew Leslie. However, only Ms. Young, who has announced her intention to contest West Bay South, confirmed to the Compass that she was seeking election this year as an independent candidate. The other three said they are still considering the move as of last week.
Another loosely associated group of political hopefuls appears to be forming in Bodden Town district, where former MLA Dwayne Seymour and former UDP district party chairman Chris Saunders have teamed up to run in Bodden Town East and Bodden Town West, respectively.
Mr. Saunders said the group is also supporting the potential candidacies of Kent McTaggart in Savannah and Mario Rankin in Newlands, if they decide to seek election. When contacted by the Compass this week, both men appeared fairly confident they would run.
In addition, independent candidate Jay Ebanks in North Side and potential candidate Isaac Rankine in East End have been identified as challengers to incumbents Mr. Miller and Arden McLean in their home districts. Mr. Saunders indicated the Bodden Town group would likely support those two men if they run, as well as potential candidate Johann Moxam in George Town. However, Mr. Moxam said he intends to remain independent of any political affiliation during the campaign.
Mr. Saunders said he does not believe earlier announcements by Bodden Town MLA Anthony Eden, stating his intention to quit politics. Mr. Saunders said any group contesting the election in Bodden Town should bank on facing Mr. Eden and his allies.
“No politician in Cayman has ever handed over power to the younger generation; they’ve all had it taken away from them,” he said. Mr. Eden did not return calls or text messages seeking comment.
The ruling party, the Progressives, is expected to field a strong incumbent team in George Town. Premier Alden McLaughlin has already stated his intention to run in George Town Central against Mr. Bryan, his former political assistant.
Former MLA Frank McField has also announced his candidacy in George Town Central, running as an independent.
Questions about Mr. Tibbetts retiring after the current legislative term have dogged the Progressives, but the George Town patriarch’s longtime rival, Opposition Leader Bush, said he doubts Mr. Tibbetts would quit ahead of the May general election. “I’ll believe that when I see it,” Mr. Bush said.
Even if Mr. Tibbetts does not run, incumbent MLAs Marco Archer, Roy McTaggart and Joey Hew are expected to seek re-election in George Town, along with Deputy Premier Moses Kirkconnell in Cayman Brac and incumbents Osbourne Bodden and Wayne Panton in Bodden Town.
Cayman Brac MLA Ms. O’Connor-Connolly, who joined the Progressives after the May 2013 general election, told the Compass her future candidacy is also uncertain. That uncertainty has led to at least one candidate, former Royal Cayman Islands Police Service Deputy Commissioner Rudolph Dixon, seeking elected office in Cayman Brac East.
Mr. Kirkconnell is expected to contest the election in Cayman Brac West/Little Cayman.
One new candidate, Edward Chisholm in North Side, has announced his candidacy – supported by the Progressives. Progressives party member and former MLA Lucille Seymour also expressed her intention to contest the election, but noted she is “not in the inner circle” any longer and would run without party support, if necessary.