“Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”
– Winston Churchill
Today is a celebration of self-governance and equality in the Cayman Islands. It is Election Day – a most fitting occasion for odes to democracy, “the will of the people” and political stability.
You will find few more ardent supporters of those concepts than the Compass Editorial Board. Lest we get carried away, however, let us take heed of the observation, quoted above, from former U.K. Prime Minister Churchill.
As the iconic leader, orator and statesman reminds us, democracy even in its most “perfect” form is far from perfect. That awareness goes as far back as Plato, who amid the very cradle of democracy in ancient Athens leveled staunch criticisms of it – with his most basic reservation being that the average citizen cannot be expected to possess (or be bothered to obtain) all the strains of knowledge required to govern a society.
In “The Republic,” Plato describes the democratic system thusly: “Imagine then a ship or a fleet in which there is a captain [in this analogy, the “body politic”] who is taller and stronger than any of the crew, but who is a little deaf and has a similar infirmity in sight, and whose knowledge of navigation is not much better. The sailors [i.e. politicians] are quarreling with one another about the steering – everyone is of the opinion that he has a right to steer, though he has never learned the art of navigation.”
In a society of any size, a system of “direct democracy” (where every citizen votes on every governmental action) would not only be undesirable, but utterly unworkable. Accordingly, various kinds of “representative democracy” developed, including the parliamentary system employed in Cayman.
Today, Caymanians (from a pool of more than 21,000 registered voters) will vote, in democratic fashion, to choose who will represent the country’s 19 electoral districts. Depending on the results, sometime during the next several days or perhaps weeks, the 19 new MLAs will hold a most-undemocratic vote themselves, to elevate “the most equal among equals” to the position of premier and to select ministers, backbenchers and so forth.
It must be noted that, under the new one-man, one-vote system, Cayman’s next premier – arithmetically speaking – could attain his position, leading a country of more than 60,000 people, on the strength of a mere 180 votes today … plus nine votes from his colleagues in the Legislative Assembly in the near future. (The district of North Side has 716 registered voters and four candidates.)
Adapting a phrase from former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, you go to the polls with the electoral system you have, not the one you might want or wish to have at a later time.
To the voters of Cayman, today is your opportunity – which occurs only once every four years – to hold elected officials accountable and to proclaim unambiguously the political will of the country to its leaders, past and future.
After today, that’s it. What you do tomorrow, after the ballots have been counted, doesn’t count.
We’ll conclude where we began, with another thought from Prime Minister Churchill:
“At the bottom of all the tributes paid to democracy is the little man, walking into the little booth, with a little pencil, making a little cross on a little bit of paper – no amount of rhetoric or voluminous discussion can possibly diminish the overwhelming importance of that point.”