EDITORIAL – Reflections on Hong Kong’s and Cayman’s elections

Legislative Assembly

Sunday’s selection of Hong Kong’s first female leader drew protests from residents who point to Carrie Lam’s victory as evidence of China’s vice-like grip on the former British colony.

In brief, protesters are critical of new chief executive Lam being picked by a tiny, largely pro-Beijing committee, rather than directly by Hong Kong’s voters.

While the situation in Hong Kong is profoundly different from the Cayman Islands, we must recognize that, according to the standards of true representative democracy, some similarities exist between Cayman and our former colonial cousin.

In Hong Kong, Ms. Lam rose to power despite her relative unpopularity among Hong Kong’s 3.8 million registered voters, who according to opinion polls greatly preferred opponent John Tsang (by a margin of about 41 percent for Mr. Tsang to 34 percent for Ms. Lam).

But when it came to Sunday’s vote, the number that mattered wasn’t 3.8 million — it was 1,194, or the number of members on Hong Kong’s Election Committee, most of whom are loyal to China’s Communist leadership. When the ballots that counted, were counted, Ms. Lam emerged victorious with 777 votes … compared to 365 for Mr. Tsang.

As Hong Kong’s pro-democracy activists point out, it seems decidedly undemocratic for the leader of an entire city to be “elected” by a select few, whether or not that accords with the wishes of the majority of the polis.

Which brings us back home to Cayman, where, in the upcoming elections that take place May 24, the leader of our entire country is certain to be chosen in just that manner.

The arithmetic is self-evident. Cayman’s next premier will be named from among the successful candidates who unite to form a ruling majority among the soon-to-be 19-member Legislative Assembly.

Under the new “one man, one vote” system implemented by the current Progressives government, a candidate needs to win a simple plurality in one of the 19 new “mini-districts” in order to become an MLA and be eligible to become premier. With the largest district being Bodden Town East with 1,531 votes, the smallest being Cayman Brac East with 506 votes, and several candidates competing in most districts, it is pretty much assured that Cayman’s next premier will have been “picked” by fewer than 1,000 Caymanian voters.

For example, among the five candidates running in Bodden Town East, the successful candidate could emerge with as few as 307 ballots (assuming the unlikely voter participation rate of 100 percent). In North Side, four candidates are competing for 717 votes, meaning a victory could be obtained with as few as 180 votes.

(If you want to be overly technical, the real leader of Cayman’s government is not the premier, but the governor, who of course is appointed by the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and so actually needs only “one vote” to head up the territory.)

Those numbers are minuscule compared to Cayman’s 21,465 registered voters, and even more microscopic in the context of the country’s 65,000 residents – most of whom, by the way, are not eligible to vote, either because of age or immigration status, and so have no direct voice in Cayman’s democratic process.

Even among Cayman’s 21,465 registered voters, many are not eligible to hold office because of birth or residency requirements. “Born Caymanians,” “Paper Caymanians,” permanent residents, work permit holders … Cayman’s supposedly cohesive society is, in reality, anything but. It is an amalgam of sub-groups, defined by genealogy, parentage, country of national origin, length (and continuity) of residency – and on and on.

We would hope that when candidates are campaigning for office, they are cognizant they are running to represent not just their own elite class (that is, not just voters and not just Caymanians), but the Cayman Islands as a country, a society and a community. In other words, the Cayman Islands as a whole.

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