Editor’s note: Updated 8 p.m. Monday to include independent group’s response.
For the second time in four days, longtime political rivals Alden McLaughlin and McKeeva Bush agreed to form a coalition government.
Although attempts to make the same agreement Friday were upended when Mr. Bush, the Cayman Democratic Party leader, abandoned the deal, it seemed the second time around would be the charm.
“We are here to make this work or I wouldn’t be here,” Mr. Bush said Monday afternoon in an impromptu press conference outside the Government Administration Building. “I have committed to support Mr. McLaughlin, the premier,… we are here for the betterment of our people. I feel this is the best way for us to get those things that our people are demanding.”
Mr. McLaughlin will retain his position as premier under the coalition government and his longtime second-in-command, Cayman Brac West/Little Cayman MLA Moses Kirkconnell, will also remain deputy premier.
Mr. Bush agreed to become Speaker of the House. His two colleagues, West Bay MLAs Bernie Bush and Capt. Eugene Ebanks, would join the government coalition as CDP members, he said.
The diverse group informed Governor Helen Kilpatrick Monday afternoon that they had agreed to make a coalition government that would include all seven elected Progressives party members, the three elected CDP members and two independents – Prospect MLA Austin Harris and West Bay South MLA Tara Rivers.
Mr. McLaughlin said he was seeking cooperation from two more independent members in joining the government, for a potential total of 14 members, but he did not have confirmation of those individuals joining as of Monday afternoon.
The Legislative Assembly is due to meet Wednesday morning to swear in its new members, name Mr. Bush as Speaker and Mr. McLaughlin as premier. A total of 19 members were elected in the May 24 vote and all will be sworn in that day.
Mr. McLaughlin said it was too early to discuss ministerial positions, but noted that he had offered Bodden Town East MLA Dwayne Seymour a post if Mr. Seymour was inclined to join the government.
Bodden Town district, the second largest in the territory, would be left without ministerial representation if the government stayed as it is with just 12 members. “The people of Bodden Town deserve to have a minister in the government,” Mr. McLaughlin said.
“I’m still hopeful we get on board a couple more of the independents so that we truly have a government of national unity,” he said. “I didn’t want four years of battling over nonsense and personality clashes.
“I’m not trying to eliminate all opposition; opposition is a critical component of the Westminster system of government,” Mr. McLaughlin said.
There will still be a significant opposition presence in the legislature as North Side MLA Ezzard Miller, East End MLA Arden McLean, Savannah MLA Anthony Eden, Newlands MLA Alva Suckoo and George Town Central MLA Kenneth Bryan were all expected to be on the other side of the House.
Mr. Seymour’s fate was unknown as of Monday. Bodden Town West MLA Chris Saunders did not return calls seeking comment Monday.
Among the two independents on the government benches, Ms. Rivers had campaigned with the Progressives and was expected to retain her minister’s position in the new coalition. However, Mr. Harris’s addition to the team came as something of a surprise, as he had been involved in discussions as a member of the independents’ coalition that had come very close to forming its own government during closed-door discussions since Thursday.
Mr. Harris said he was there for most of the talks.
“The independents had, on two separate occasions, the opportunity to form the government and they allowed it, for a variety of reasons, to slip,” Mr. Harris said. “I did not believe that opportunity would come a third time.”
Mr. Harris said, as a first-term MLA, he had no expectation of receiving a minister’s post but felt his Prospect district would get nothing if he stayed in the opposition.
The Cayman Compass reached out to all remaining members of the Legislative Assembly who were not immediately identified as members of the government, but received no statements as of press time Monday afternoon.
The independent group issued a written statement around 7 p.m. Monday denying any claims that its members had not earnestly tried to form a government – both with Mr. Bush’s CDP and members of Mr. McLaughlin’s Progressives.
The statement blasted Mr. Bush for taking what the independent members termed a “lesser deal” offered by the Progressives and questioning Mr. Bush’s motives for doing so.
The independent group claimed it had offered the West Bay MLA the Speaker’s position and deputy leader’s position in various iterations of a coalition government, as well as a ministerial position for his fellow MLA Bernie Bush. The Progressives, they said, had done no such thing.
“The independent members wish to assure the public that we made every best effort to form a government that reflected the will of the people,” the statement read. “It is clear now that neither the PPM nor the CDP negotiated in good faith.”
Following the meeting with Mr. Bush and Mr. McLaughlin Monday afternoon, Governor Kilpatrick issued the following statement:
“[Monday] afternoon, I met with elected representatives Alden McLaughlin Jr., McKeeva Bush, Moses Kirkconnell, Austin Harris and Capt. Eugene Ebanks. Mr. McLaughlin provided me with evidence that he had sufficient support to form a ‘Government of National Unity.’
“Accordingly, I have signed the proclamation to … call a session of the Legislative Assembly for 10 a.m. Wednesday, May 31, for the purposes of swearing in all newly elected and appointed members of the Legislative Assembly, voting for a Premier pursuant to section 49 (3) of the Constitution of the Cayman Islands, and other attendant matters.
Mr. McLaughlin has indicated that he will be seeking election to the position of Premier and Mr. Bush to Speaker of the House.”