2017 election could eclipse candidate record

Although the total number of candidates who will contest the May 24 vote probably will not be known until nomination day, March 29, it is easily possible that a new record number of political hopefuls could be set.

As of Friday, the total number of either declared or potential candidates tallied by the Cayman Compass for the general election was 61.

The largest number of candidates ever to stand for election in the Cayman Islands is 57, according to elections office records.

That number has been achieved in two contests: in November 2000 and in May 2013, the last general election on the islands.

With 19 single-member constituent districts open to candidates for the first time, multiple candidacies have already been declared in some of the districts.

For instance, in George Town Central, three candidates have announced – Premier Alden McLaughlin, Kenneth Bryan and Frank McField. In North Side district, three candidates are already expected to contest the election, and a fourth is considering a run.

If all 19 political constituencies end up with just three candidates running in each, the current record number of candidates in one election would already be equaled. It is possible some constituencies will have quite a few more challengers than that.

Call it “the Trump effect.”

Both Premier McLaughlin and Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush have said on separate occasions that there appears to be a global trend in politics of late, in which some “fundamental principles” have been revealed, highlighted by the Brexit vote in the U.K., Germany’s regional elections and U.S. President Donald Trump’s victory, all in 2016.

“[There has been] a change in the global economy in the post-recession world and what appears to be the rise of populism and extreme nationalism in some countries,” Mr. McLaughlin said during a speech in late November.

A number of independent politicians in Cayman have privately or publicly cited Mr. Trump’s surprise victory, in particular, as giving them hope of success outside of the political establishment.

“If you’re close to the ground and you’re listening to the people in Cayman, you won’t be shocked in May [the date of Cayman’s general election] when the people once again throw out the establishment,” Bodden Town MLA Alva Suckoo said.

The effect of Trump’s success in the U.S. elections has clearly buoyed some Cayman Islands candidates’ views of their own chances in the next election.

Education Minister Tara Rivers has been heard in the Legislative Assembly borrowing from Trump’s phrase “make America great again,” but substituting Cayman for America.

The anticipated number of candidates cannot all be put down to Mr. Trump’s success in the last U.S. election. Cayman has switched to a one man, one vote general election system this year for the first time since the 1950s.

According to the local voting system’s chief architect, American political scientist Lisa Handley, the single-member district voting system makes it more attractive for underfunded independent candidates to seek office.

“In single-member constituencies, it’s much easier for independents who don’t have any party ties to run [for office] because the number of voters you have to reach is smaller; it’s less expensive,” Ms. Handley said.

Premier McLaughlin does not view it that way, and has said many times that the one man, one vote system would likely serve to cement political parties even further in Cayman, as it has in the rest of the Caribbean.

In most Caribbean countries with single-member voting districts, two major political parties have dominated for decades. In Jamaica’s 2011 election, for instance, the People’s National Party received about 53 percent of the vote, with 47 percent of the vote going to the Jamaica Labour Party. Four other political parties that contested the election received only about 1,000 votes among them, out of more than 800,000 cast.

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