In three short weeks, Cayman Islands voters will stream to the country’s polling stations for Cayman’s quadrennial exercise in democracy.
So far, the political campaign season has lived up (and, sometimes, “down”) to expectations, as a broad field of 61 candidates compete for ballots in 19 freshly minted single-member districts. It’s good that we don’t make our living on prognosticating because in this year’s “brave new world” of “one man, one vote,” just who will eventually emerge victorious on Election Day, May 24, is anybody’s guess.
While the candidates limber up for the home stretch, we’ll review some themes and highlights that have emerged over the past months, then take a quick peek ahead – not at what we predict will happen during the next three weeks – but at what we hope will set the tone for the remainder of the campaign.
There’s a phrase we’re sure our readers are familiar with: “All politics is local.”
That seems apt in a country divided into districts ranging in size from 484 voters (Cayman Brac East) to 1,513 voters (Bodden Town East).
In public statements, candidates have certainly delved into minutiae about things they would do, if elected, to benefit their specific districts. That includes things such as improved sidewalks and street lighting, remedies for neighborhood-level flooding, and increased foot patrols for police officers.
While those types of projects are necessary and, to individual districts, important – the danger of having 19 “mini-districts” arises if such promises become the sole focus of elected officials whose primary duty, let us not forget, is to run the entire country.
That being said, so far in the campaign, you could equally say that, “All politics is national.” In other words, candidates seem to recognize, correctly, that the most important issues facing their districts are identical to the most important issues facing Cayman as a whole. Regardless of where particular facilities happen to be located, national issues such as education, employment, the economy, government spending, healthcare, immigration, infrastructure and public safety are the issues that matter in the minds of voters, across all districts.
Whether or not our politicians, when discussing these national issues, can refrain from populist grandstanding by bashing foreign workers, permanent residents and, in general, Cayman’s non-voting population, is a separate topic altogether. We must never forget that approximately half of our resident population consists of expatriates and their dependents who cannot vote (much less stand for office).
There’s another truism in campaign circles: “Politics ain’t beanbag.”
Former candidates Nickolas DaCosta and Mario Rankine can attest to that. We say “former” because Messrs. DaCosta and Rankine were removed from the ballot following challenges to their qualifications as candidates, on legal grounds that – until the rulings by Chief Justice Anthony Smellie – were untested and rather murky.
One of the most compelling side narratives in the 2017 campaign saga has been the conflict between Premier Alden McLaughlin and – no, not Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush, nor the premier’s opponents in Red Bay – but between the premier and his former political assistant Kenneth Bryan, who is running as an independent in George Town Central. Before Nomination Day, talk on the street was that the premier might square off against Mr. Bryan directly … instead, after a daylong bout of “hide and seek” with the press, the premier popped up to register in Red Bay (where, on another interesting personal note, one opponent is the Cayman Democratic Party’s Denniston Tibbetts, who is the brother of Mr. McLaughlin’s political mentor, Kurt Tibbetts).
In George Town Central, Mr. Bryan has found himself targeted on two fronts: by his opponent on the ballot, the Progressives’ Finance Minister Marco Archer, and also by Premier McLaughlin, who as we describe in a story in today’s Compass, has waged a sort of “proxy war” against Mr. Bryan during his own speeches and statements.
Although that sort of stuff makes for good newspaper stories and lively conversation, our hope going forward is that the campaigns attempt to distinguish themselves with big, outward-facing ideas for the country as a whole, rather than with small, inward-facing promises for individual districts, and certainly not with the airing of petty grievances against individual rivals.
When candidates behave with dignity, it enables voters to make clear-eyed decisions for the betterment of the country. The reverse is also true.