Governor Martyn Roper has encouraged as many Caymanians as possible to exercise their right to vote in the upcoming people-initiated referendum on the controversial cruise port project.
Calling the poll “an historic moment”, Roper said he had every confidence that the vote, scheduled for 19 Dec., would continue the island’s track record of holding “free and fair” elections and referendums.
He suggested a large turnout would be good for democracy.
“I hope that as many people as possible will want to vote, including our civil servants, who have the same democratic rights as other registered electors,” the governor said in an emailed response to questions from the Cayman Compass.
The nature of the referendum rules, outlined in the Constitution and the bill for this poll, which will be debated in the Legislative Assembly next week, means that more than half of Cayman’s registered voters must turn out and vote against the project for it to be halted.
People who don’t show up at the polls will effectively be counted as a vote in favour of the cruise port.
Despite that dynamic, the governor said he hoped people would use their right to vote, whether or not they support the port project.
“Some countries make it compulsory to vote, seeing it as a civic duty,” he said. “In Cayman, and the UK, we do not adopt that practice. Under our system, everyone has the democratic right to choose whether they wish to vote or not.
“But I believe it strengthens our democracy if there is a strong turn-out in referendums and elections.”
The Opposition and the Cruise Port Referendum Cayman campaign group have both raised several concerns about the rules and regulations for the December poll, as currently outlined in the draft bill.
These include the provision allowing bars to remain open on polling day and the “disenfranchisement” of some 200-plus voters who registered to vote earlier this month but who will not be added to the voters list until January.
Roper, who met with members of the campaign group, has not commented on those concerns at this point.
“These are matters for government and will be debated in the Legislative Assembly,” he said.
The governor said his role in the proceedings was to listen to both sides, to ensure the rule of law is upheld and to support the Supervisor of Elections and his team in holding a “fair, transparent and efficient vote”.
He has not taken sides in the debate, but said he was encouraged that Cayman’s people were exercising their democratic rights.
“It is an historic moment as we embark on Cayman’s first People’s Initiated Referendum.
Stepping back from the debate, it is a positive example of our community engaging through our democratic system to express their views,” he said.
He confirmed that international election observers from the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association will arrive in the Cayman Islands approximately one week before Referendum Day, although they will begin analysis of the poll remotely before this date. They will meet with relevant parties before the poll and issue a report afterwards.
Roper said the association was highly respected and should add extra confidence that the poll would be conducted in a fair manner.
“International observation of elections and referendums is an important means of providing an independent assessment of all aspects of the electoral process in accordance with international obligations, commitments and standards for democratic elections,” he said.
The Referendum Bill also provides for the premier, leader of the opposition and CPR Cayman to appoint local observers to scrutinise the issuance of postal ballots, the conduct of mobile voting, polling on Referendum Day and the counting of the ballots.
“This is an important part of the process and helps to ensure transparency and accountability,” Roper added.