Roy McTaggart looks set to be the next premier of the Cayman Islands with the Progressives in pole position to lead a coalition government.
There were jubilant scenes at the party headquarters as the final results came in around 11pm on Wednesday.
With all seven sitting party members as well as alliance partner Dwayne Seymour holding their seats, McTaggart will have the best shot of forming a government.
He said he was “overjoyed” with the result and confident of forming a broad coalition.
“All of the incumbent Progressives candidates were elected quite resoundingly,” he said.
“The country were clearly happy with the Progressives and the government we have led.”
He acknowledged there had been some tension throughout the night with some seismic shocks elsewhere in Grand Cayman.
Veteran legislators Ezzard Miller and Arden McLean were toppled in North Side and East End, with Johany Ebanks and Isaac Rankine, respectively, taking their seats in the new parliament.
Rankine has already indicated he would be willing to join the next government and several other independents appeared open to the prospect.
McKeeva Bush’s conviction for assaulting a woman appears to have dented his popularity in West Bay. He narrowly retained his seat admitting it was a “cliffhanger” after his 27-vote win over Mario Ebanks.
His long-time running mate, Capt. Eugene Ebanks, was soundly beaten, however, with Katherine Ebanks-Wilks taking the West Bay Central seat by 539 to 392 votes.
McTaggart said he would be reaching out to some of the independents as he seeks to form a government.
“We are starting with a position of strength,” he said, targeting a coalition of 12-14 seats.
André Ebanks, Rankine, Heather Bodden and Johany Ebanks – all of whom were successful tonight – have been previously named as possible partners for the Progressives.
Asked about that newly elected quartet, McTaggart said, “I would anticipate several of those would be a part of helping us form the government.”
He said the celebrations would go on through the night, with the serious business of putting together a government likely to take place Thursday.
There remains an outside possibility of a rival independent group seeking to form a coalition without the Progressives.
McLaughlin happy with government successes
It wasn’t all smooth sailing for the the party. Alden McLaughlin faced a tighter-than- expected race in Red Bay against Sammy Jackson, while Barbara Conolly went down to the wire against Alric Lindsay in George Town South.
McLaughlin, who eventually prevailed with 56% of the vote, said it had been one of the hardest elections he had ever fought.
He said he was happy to hand over the leadership reins and reflected on a tough last year amid the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite that, he said his government had achieved a great deal – “more than any other government in Cayman’s history”.
He acknowledged national discontent with the party system and admitted it is getting “harder and harder to win elections”.
Reflecting on the big shocks of the night in East End and North Side, he said Miller and McLean had “sealed their fate” by spending so long in opposition “criticising and condemning”, and suggested their constituents had wanted a representative who could be part of government.
Rankine targets government position
Rankine, who defeated McLean, has already targeted a role with the new administration.
“They are not going to form the government without us,” he told his supporters amid chants of “Isaac, Isaac, Isaac” and “East End first” at Heritage Field.
Speaking to the Cayman Compass, he said: “I’m overwhelmed with the support that the people of East End showed. They showed that they were ready for change. They showed that they want better for this district.
“We know that there are a lot of issues in the district that we have to work on. We also know there are national issues.”
Rankine said he is prepared to work with an elected government to make sure that the issues are addressed. That is not to say that he would agree with everything government does, he added.
“But certainly, we can be working with the government and making them better.”
Other government options
André Ebanks, who was head of Cayman’s London office as a civil servant and is tipped as another contender to join the Progressives and partners in government, was playing his cards close to his chest after a big win in West Bay South, the seat vacated by Tara Rivers.
“Right now I need to savour the moment, speak to my constituents and talk politics later,” he said.
Johany Ebanks, who won with 55% of the vote in North Side, toppling Miller, who took 30%, was also in a celebratory mood and looking to save discussions over coalitions for another day.
“I want to thank God for this nice victory,” he said. “I want to thank all of my North Side supporters. I want to thank my awesome team. It was a hard run for the four years. It all proved out tonight.”
Bush admits: “I have never faced anything like this”
Speaking outside of his West Bay West constituency, draped in a Caymanian flag, McKeeva Bush admitted he had faced a close call.
“It was a cliffhanger; I have never faced anything like this,” he said, claiming his rival Mario Ebanks had outspent him in the district.
“I understand there have been many changes,” he added. “I say what I said back in 2017, let us get together and put the best government forward.”
He added, “Whatever I am called to do, I am there to do it. If I am not given a post of any kind, I will still carry out my duties as a representative of West Bay West and a representative of the Cayman Islands.”
Resounding wins for Bryan, Saunders
Kenneth Bryan and Chris Saunders were two of the biggest winners on the night.
Bryan took 87% of the vote in George Town Central and led a victory parade through the streets.
Wearing a crown and surrounded by joyous supporters, he told the Compass, “I feel great. The best place in the world to be is George Town Central with my people and my family.”
Asked about his plans, he said, “I want to form a government with good people. We have a lot of things to do… let’s celebrate for a little bit and then form a government like Cayman has never seen before. That’s the plan.”
Chris Saunders had a similarly resounding victory in Bodden Town West taking 80% of the vote in his race with Vincent Frederick.
Saunders’ hopes of toppling the Progressives appear remote, however, with few of his coalition colleagues getting elected.
Wayne Panton, who had been tipped as another possible leader before the poll, celebrated his win in Newlands as well as that of his running mate Heather Bodden
“It is such an incredible honour to be elevated to represent my wonderful community in Newlands and to have been given the honour and privilege in such a decisive way.”
The winners are:
West Bay North – Bernie Bush
West Bay West – McKeeva Bush
West Bay Central – Katherine Ebanks-Wilks
West Bay South – André Ebanks
George Town North – Joey Hew
George Town West – David Wight
George Town Central – Kenneth Bryan
George Town South – Barbara Conolly
George Town East – Roy McTaggart
Red Bay – Alden McLaughlin
Prospect – Sabrina Turner
Savannah – Heather Bodden
Newlands – Wayne Panton
Bodden Town West – Christopher Saunders
Bodden Town East – Dwayne Seymour
North Side – Jay Ebanks
East End – Isaac Rankine
Cayman Brac West and Little Cayman – Moses Kirkconnell
Cayman Brac East – Juliana O’Connor-Connolly