***Updated 1:35 a.m. Saturday with statement from Alden McLaughlin***
McKeeva Bush is set to become premier of the Cayman Islands, leading a coalition with independent members after a stunning 11th hour deal was struck, reversing a previously announced deal with the Progressives.
Speaking to the Cayman Compass just before midnight Friday, Mr. Bush said he had formed a “government of national unity” with the independents.
He said he had written to Governor Helen Kilpatrick to rescind the agreement signed only hours earlier with Alden McLaughlin and the Progressives.
According to Mr. Bush, Newlands MLA Al Suckoo will be deputy premier in the new administration with erstwhile Bodden Town West candidate Gilbert McLean drafted in as speaker.
In a statement, Mr. Bush, added, “This has been a long and tedious election campaign with plenty of ongoing discussion happening to select who will govern the country for the next four years.
“After numerous calls from my West Bay constituencies and from voters across the wider eastern independent representative districts, I, William McKeeva Bush and my colleagues have therefore withdrawn our support for the PPM to form the next government and have agreed to form the next government with the independent candidates.
He said the fact that the people had chosen more independent candidates meant they had a mandate to make a change for the “beloved nation”.
He confirmed Mr. Suckoo would be deputy with five other ministers to be announced. Anthony Eden will be deputy speaker and political veteran Gilbert McLean, who fought and lost as an independent candidate, will be speaker.
The coalition creates an 11-person government with Mr. Bush and his Cayman Democratic Party colleagues joining with eight independent members. Tara Rivers, also an independent member, is not initially involved in the coalition and will, it seems, sit on the opposition benches with the seven Progressives.
Only hours earlier Mr. Bush and Mr. McLaughlin had publicly confirmed a deal to join forces. That agreement would have allowed Mr. McLaughlin to remain as Premier, with Mr, Bush taking the speakers role and Bernie Bush becoming deputy speaker.
Mr. McLaughlin and Mr, Bush had posed for a photograph signing the deal and a joint press statement was issued.
Mr. Bush now says the deal is void.
“We have written to the governor and rescinded any agreement with the Progressives,” he told the Compass in an interview.
After Mr. Bush’s late-night announcement, Mr. McLaughlin told the Cayman Compass he had done his best to form a government and suggested the intervention of Dr. Steve Tomlinson (who had backed as many as 19 independents during the election campaign) had caused the deal to fall apart.
In a written statement, Mr. McLaughlin said, “I am going to stand back and watch this train wreck of a government happen.
“I have done my best to form a good stable government but the unelected Premier Dr Tomlinson has brokered another deal that serves McKeeva’s ambition but will also allow the good doctor to stand outside cabinet and dictate policy.
“It is going to be one hell of a ride. We should not expect this government to last very long. Brace for a period of great uncertainty in this country.”
As was seen earlier in the day, such agreements are not legally binding, and the possibility remains that the Progressives (or any other group of elected lawmakers) could seek to make an alternative agreement before the governor appoints the new premier as formally supported by the majority of the Legislative Assembly.