Petitions are – and deserve to be – one of the weakest and most ineffective forms of protest or communication. They are wildly unscientific, easily manipulated and almost always discounted by those they are trying to persuade.
But in this mid-summer hiatus, it is no surprise that Cayman is witnessing what we will call “dueling petitions” – one advocating for the return of Governor Anwar Choudhury and the other urging that acting Governor Franz Manderson, of Cayman soil and service, be elevated into the position of our full-time, full-term governor.
And so, not unlike football fans donning colored jerseys, hundreds of petitioners have been declaring their support for “Team Choudhury” or “Team Manderson” – despite the absence of a shred of official information about Governor Choudhury’s suspension, the investigation, or the unspecified complaints that preceded his removal.
It is not even clear whether Mr. Manderson would be interested in serving a full term as governor, or whether the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office would consider appointing a Caymanian to represent the Queen’s interests here (which would be a radical departure from the U.K.’s approach to colonial administration).
That has not prevented members of Cayman’s politigensia – most notably, House Speaker McKeeva Bush – from joining the scrum.
This week, Mr. Bush indicated his support for an online petition asking Lord Tariq Ahmad of Wimbledon to appoint Mr. Manderson as Governor Choudhury’s replacement as, so the petition states, “the time and opportunity has come to have a child of the soil as Governor of the Cayman Islands.”
By midday Thursday, 700 people had signed the petition, which states, “For forty-seven (47) years we have been governed by someone outside of our country. We agree that in the beginning years it was necessary to have outside governance, but we submit that it is no longer necessary, as Mr. Manderson’s civil service career is only ten years less than the overall governance of the Cayman Islands.”
Meanwhile, members of “Team Choudhury” have been flocking to sign petitions held at several local businesses to indicate their support for another course of action – calling on Lord Ahmad to return and reinstate Mr. Choudhury as governor “as soon as possible” unless the investigation reveals criminal actions that would warrant his removal.
That petition asserts, “Mr. Choudhury has been the first Governor by attitude and action to show equal respect and regard for all sectors and individuals in Cayman and not limited to a small elite and self-important few who wish to be given special treatment.” It continues, “the feeling among the general public is that the one public figure who by his actions has shown he takes positive interest on the public’s behalf for true good governance has suddenly been taken away.”
It is understandable that people would be eager to bring an end to the tension and uncertainty swirling around Cayman’s highest office. The Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) has no one to blame but itself for this entrenchment. But Cayman has nothing to gain by polarization or further division into opposing camps.
The governor’s office is not – nor should it be – a partisan or elective position. It certainly should not be a “popularity contest,” the “winner” of which is influenced by most signatures, Tweets, anonymous blogs, or calls to radio talk-show hosts.
What is required here is swift action from the FCO, whose performance to date on this matter has been as inept as it has been opaque. Its credibility continues to diminish every moment this matter remains unresolved.