With the 14 April general election now mere days away, keen political observers like Livingston Smith are taking the public’s pulse on who may likely lead the next government.
“I believe this is the most intriguing election and, like all elections, very consequential,” Smith told the Cayman Compass recently, as he discussed emerging trends in the run-up to the election.
The question on the minds of many: Will the Progressives come out on top, or will there be a shift towards favouring independents?
Smith believes the race, as it stands is tight, but the Roy McTaggart-led Progressives may have an edge over the competition.
“The PPM is starting out with a bloc of eight candidates and four closely aligned [to the Progressives]. But there is obviously more to this alignment, given that MPs Captain Eugene [Ebanks] and Mr. McKeeva Bush were willing to work with the PPM,” he said, adding, other independent candidates have also signalled in their own way that they are willing to work with the largest bloc of winning candidates “within some conditions”.
“From my estimation, the above scenario is the likely outcome,” Smith, professor of social sciences at the University College of the Cayman Islands, told the Compass via email.
He said from the Progressives bloc of eight, “they are likely to pick up at least six, maybe even seven” seats.
“From the four closely aligned, I would say at least two. This gives them nine already. Irrespective of the outcomes in West Bay, the PPM is likely to benefit,” he said.
With the exception of North Side incumbent Ezzard Miller, who is running on his People’s Party ticket, Smith said all the other candidates are campaigning as independents. However, Smith said it is unclear to him who are the leadership contenders among those candidates.
“I am not locating with any certainty who might emerge as the leader among them, if for example, they all won their seats. The key persons would be Mr. Arden McLean and Mr. Wayne Panton, depending on how the elections actually turn out. The ‘team’ of Mr. Panton, Mr. Osbourne Bodden and Ms. Heather Bodden, is interesting, and we will know the results soon,” he said.
Outside of those candidates, he said, there remains the team of Chris Saunders, Bernie Bush, Arden McLean, Kenneth Bryan and Malcolm Eden as the other political force.
“We could assume that Mr. Miller is likely to join this group. At the end of the process, irrespective of the outcome, it will be crucial not only to have a good government, but also an effective opposition,” he argued.
After the 2017 elections, there was no clear majority to form a government. As a result, the Progressives teamed up with West
Bay MPs McKeeva Bush, Eugene Ebanks, Bernie Bush and Tara Rivers, along with Bodden Town East’s Dwayne Seymour and Prospect’s Austin Harris.
As part of post-election horse trading, McKeeva Bush also sought to strike a deal with the MPs who would later form the opposition bench led by Miller. In 2019, McLean replaced Miller as leader of the opposition.
Smith also pointed to the small number of female candidates in this month’s race, saying it was an important issue that must be rectified and seen as important.
“Only ten of the fifty candidates in the upcoming elections are women. This should be of concern, I believe,” he said.
“ The low percentage of women in parliaments is a Caribbean and global issue. In the Caribbean, 22% of ministerial portfolios/cabinet positions in the Anglophone Caribbean are held by women and across the region women generally do not hold more than 30% of elected positions except for Guyana which has a legislated quota of one-third of the number of political party nominees must be women.”
Political parties, or whatever the designation used, he said, must lead the way in changing this situation.
“It is political parties that identify, train and support candidates for office. Political parties must support women who show the interest and determination to run for office, it’s crucial,” he said.
Key election issues
McKeeva Bush, who was named House Speaker in 2017, has featured heavily on the campaign trail after his trouble with the law, calls for his removal and Premier Alden McLaughlin’s eventual calling of early elections this year.
However, Smith believes the knock-on effect of the West Bay West incumbent’s legal issues won’t be felt until after the election rather than on the hustings.
“This has been voiced in different ways in various political meetings. I believe we will know after the elections how it has played out in terms of the effect on voting in West Bay, especially in West Bay West, West Bay Central and West Bay North,” he said.
Bush has been arrested twice during his tenure. The first instance was in Miami when he was arrested for allegedly inappropriately touching a female casino worker; no charges were filed in that case. He was also arrested last year after an altercation at Coral Beach Bar. He was subsequently convicted on three assault charges and handed a suspended sentence.
Apart from this matter, Smith said, other key issues on the campaign trail have been people-centred.
“Not surprisingly, the key issues have to do with the economy and the cost of living, how Caymanians are faring generally, management of the COVID crisis and timetable for reopening the borders, educational levels, transportation, among others,” he said.
Smith said there are many seats to keep an eye on in the upcoming polls, like West Bay South and Savannah, both of which do not have incumbents seeking reelection.
However, he believes the close margins of victory in 2017 makes this election all the more interesting.