Discussions over the future of Cayman’s government remained mired in uncertainty Sunday afternoon following a weekend in which Progressives party leader Alden McLaughlin, and then Cayman Democratic Party leader McKeeva Bush, declared themselves as the territory’s premier only for the deals to fall apart within hours.
At press time Sunday, the 19 elected politicians from all sides were deep in discussions, with numerous potential coalitions being weighed.
Amid the turmoil, Mr. McLaughlin remained confident that he could form a government.
“I expect to have a government in place and to meet with the Governor [Monday],” he told the Cayman Compass Sunday afternoon, though he said it was too early to give details.
When asked about the progress of the talks Sunday afternoon, Mr. Bush opined they were “a mess.”
“There have been so many attempts [to form a government] that it’s now ridiculous,” he said. “The country will suffer for these mistakes.”
One proposal being discussed Sunday, according to multiple sources familiar with the talks, was a deal in which Mr. McLaughlin stepped down as leader of the Progressives to facilitate a coalition with a group of independents. Under that scenario, either Progressives deputy leader Moses Kirkconnell or East End MLA Arden McLean had been named as potential leaders.
However, the situation remained fluid with new alliances forming and falling apart almost as quickly.
If no agreement is reached before the first meeting of the Legislative Assembly, anticipated some time this week, the country’s next leader could be determined by a secret ballot of all 19 members.
Mr. Bush accepted Sunday that his coalition with the independents, announced just before midnight on Friday, had fallen apart.
It is understood that Mr. McLean and North Side MLA Ezzard Miller, who had declined to take Cabinet positions in the alliance, defected from the group and were involved in talks over the weekend with some Progressives members over an alternative coalition.
Mr. Bush, who flew to Florida Saturday morning, had announced he was forming a government of “national unity” with Newlands MLA Alva Suckoo as deputy premier and political veteran Gilbert McLean drafted in as Speaker of the House. The Cabinet posts would have been filled by a mix of independent and CDP legislators.
Mr. Bush told the Compass, Friday night, that he had written to the Governor to rescind an agreement signed only hours earlier to unite with the Progressives. Under that arrangement, Mr. Bush would have been Speaker, with Mr. McLaughlin retaining the premiership.
A joint press statement was issued along with a photograph of the two longtime political rivals signing the agreement at the Caribbean Club Friday afternoon.
Later discussions between Mr. Bush and the independents, at private offices in Grand Pavilion, facilitated by Dr. Steve Tomlinson, led to the CDP leader reversing his decision and announcing the new coalition.
Mr. McLaughlin, in a statement to the Compass early Saturday morning, gave his views on the situation as it existed at that time: “I am going to stand back and watch this train wreck 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.”
Those words appeared to be prophetic, with the deal apparently falling apart within 24 hours, sparking a new set of talks between the various factions which were still continuing at press time Sunday.
If no agreement on a government formation can be reached by the first meeting of the Legislative Assembly, a Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the House must be elected by a majority vote of the assembly members at that meeting. The first meeting for the swearing in of Legislative Assembly members is expected to occur sometime this week.
Once the Speaker is in place, if no coalition is formed, the Cayman Islands Constitution Order (2009) states: “If no political party gains such a majority or if no recommendation is made [by the governor for the premier’s appointment by a majority of legislative members], the Speaker shall cause a ballot to be held among the elected members of the Legislative Assembly to determine which elected member commands the support of the majority of … members.”
The Constitution requires the elected member who receives a majority of votes (10) to be appointed premier.
Four days of turmoil
Negotiations to form the government began Thursday morning, just hours after general election results were declared. The Progressives party huddled in its own meeting while eight independent candidates – minus West Bay South MLA Tara Rivers – started talks among themselves.
Nothing was heard from the three-person Cayman Democratic Party contingent all day.
By the end of Thursday, a proposal emerged: The Progressives would lead a coalition with longtime rivals the CDP and someone other than Mr. McLaughlin – possibly Cayman Brac West/Little Cayman MLA Mr. Kirkconnell – would take the helm. The arrangement proposed to make CDP leader McKeeva Bush Speaker of the House.
According to sources within the Progressives and elsewhere, Mr. McLaughlin balked at the deal and it was initially not accepted.
The eight independent candidates, meanwhile, were discussing options to form their own coalition with Mr. Bush, potentially making him Minister of Tourism, in a government led by East End MLA Arden McLean. However, it was understood that some independent members did not support the move, leading to an internal disagreement.
According to sources, the independents had set a meeting with Mr. Bush to discuss the matter Friday morning, but he did not attend.
On Friday afternoon, Progressives party sources confirmed that Mr. Bush had agreed to accept the Speaker’s position and that CDP deputy leader Bernie Bush would be given deputy speaker and a minister’s role in a coalition government – this time with Mr. McLaughlin as its head.
That proposal was agreed in a signed “joint statement” by McKeeva Bush and Mr. McLaughlin at around 4 p.m. Friday.
“The leadership of the Progressives and the CDP has met and has agreed to work together in the interest of national unity,” the statement read.
At this stage, the Progressives were not certain whom their ministers would be, but indicated Mr. McLaughlin would be premier and Mr. Kirkconnell would be deputy premier of an 11-member government bench.
Less than four hours after inking that agreement, Mr. Bush was in talks with the independents coalition about forming an entirely different government.
The instigator of these discussions was Dr. Steve Tomlinson, who had supported a number of independent candidates during the 2017 campaign and who had funded an “anti-political party” campaign largely out of his own pocket.
Following Dr. Tomlinson’s intervention, CDP candidates and the independents group, after meeting for a few hours, agreed late Friday to form a new 11-person coalition government with Mr. Bush as premier and several newly elected independent members serving as ministers.
As dawn broke on Saturday, discussions were already swirling within political circles that the agreement reached Friday night would not hold up.
The Progressives party met with certain independent candidates to discuss the possibility of forming a coalition government in the wake of Mr. Bush’s move.
One such discussion occurring late Saturday evening appeared to be bearing fruit, a coalition between certain members of the independents’ group and certain members of the Progressives party.
As of Sunday afternoon, the coalition make-up was still under discussion.