First Wayne Panton and then Roy McTaggart announced on Thursday that they had sealed an agreement to form the government.
Panton had asked Governor Martyn Roper to call a meeting of Parliament next Wednesday at 10am to swear in the elected members and formally appoint him as premier in accordance with the Constitution of the Cayman Islands. But McTaggart later announced he had secured deals with two independents to form a Progressives led coalition with himself as premier.
Now that deal appears to have collapsed and there will be further twists before the government is announced.
Here, we explain how that process works and try to answer some of the key questions surrounding the issue. We will continue to amend this document as we get questions from the public.
How is the premier chosen?
Under the Constitution, if a political party wins the majority of the seats in Parliament, their leader is appointed premier.
That didn’t happen on Wednesday, however, with the Progressives securing seven of the 19 seats.
Under those circumstances, the Constitution indicates there should be a ballot among the elected members and a recorded vote to decide the premier.
Asked about this eventuality prior to the election, the Governor’s Office indicated, “in more recent times the convention has been that when an individual demonstrates that he or she has the support of 10 or more MPs, they write to the Governor producing evidence of that support, and the Governor then appoints him or her as Premier”.
Two attorneys who spoke to the Compass about the issue said they believed the Constitution explicitly requires a vote, but that would not stop the members agreeing to a deal and presenting the vote as a ‘fait accompli’.
That is what is occurring now, with the two groups bargaining to build a viable team of 10.
The Compass now understands that on this occasion the Constitution will be followed to the letter. So no claim to have formed a government or appointed a premier is confirmed until there is a meeting of Parliament and a recorded vote confirming that.
So who is Cayman’s premier?
In his press release, Wayne Panton described himself as the premier designate.
He wouldn’t formally become premier until a vote takes place in the Parliament and he is sworn in by the governor.
McTaggart’s announcement around midnight Thursday briefly made him the new ‘premier designate’ but Sabrina Turner’s return to the Panton camp Friday night scuppered that arrangement. Both men are now trying to get the numbers they need to take the government.
Alden McLaughlin is technically still premier until a replacement is sworn in.
Could there be more changes?
There is still scope for political moves that could change the make-up of the government. Until that meeting of Parliament is held and the members are sworn in, nothing is set in stone.
In 2017, a coalition of independents led by McKeeva Bush briefly declared themselves as Cayman’s new government, only for the partnership to fall apart within a day.
Panton’s grouping seemed more solid, but there was always potential for the Progressives to poach two members and form the government with Roy McTaggart as premier. That is what appeared to have happened on Thursday.
As of Friday night there was no deal so there will have to be changes before a government is formed.
What about the papers Panton presented to the governor?
What was submitted to the governor, we understand, is a letter of intent including expressions of support from 10 independents, including Panton, for the formation of a coalition of independents.
As stated, and confirmed from official sources, that is not going to be personally ratified by the governor. The final confirmation only comes once that vote takes place in parliament, as per the constitution.
Why were the Progressives so confident after the polls closed?
The Progressives alliance, comprising seven party members and ‘independent’ Dwayne Seymour, took eight seats.
They believed they had an agreement with two others – Isaac Rankine in East End and Jay Ebanks in North Side.
They appear to have been blindsided by the overnight negotiations among the independents that led to Panton presenting his letter of intent to the governor.
In a statement issued shortly after Panton announced his proposed government, McTaggart indicated that his party was in talks with independents and their representatives in the hopes of reassembling their coalition or forming a new one, which they appeared to have achieved by the early hours of 16 April. That quickly fell through, however, and the horse trading goes on.
Nothing is really settled until the meeting of parliament and the swearing in.
When will that take place?
There is no set date. Panton had asked for a meeting next Wednesday, but his coalition seems to have now fallen apart. With the return of Turner to the fold, he sounded hopeful Friday, that he could still get the numbers to have his government confirmed on that date.
The Progressives, if they manage to build a new coalition, will then go to the governor and request a date for that to take place.
It is unlikely that the governor will call the meeting until the negotiations stop and there is a clear path to government for either group.
It is theoretically possible, even after that, that members could change their vote on the day. Once the recorded vote in parliament has taken place it becomes more settled.
Could it still change after that?
Once the premier and his government are sworn in, it means the partnership has solidified and formalised beyond a simple written agreement.
However, there is nothing to stop it falling apart after that. Government members can and do switch sides all the time.
Bernie Bush did just that during the last government’s stint, but the government at that time had a strong-enough majority to prevent it from collapsing.
At the moment both alliances that were announced (and then fell apart) involved a 10-8 majority.
It would only take one member to jump ship to potentially initiate a change in government and the leadership.
Unless a party or group has a significant majority, its grip on power is often tenuous in the parliamentary system. The situation is even more volatile in the Cayman Islands, where the party system and party allegiances are less entrenched.
Perhaps for that reason, both Panton and McTaggart indicated ambitions to add to their team. Right now it is a race to 10. Once there is a clear winner, others may come on board.
Alric Lindsay didn’t win his seat, yet was announced as the likely Speaker of the House. How does that work?
Under Cayman Islands law, the Speaker can either be one of the elected members or can be drafted from outside.
The Speaker must be “qualified to be an elected member” but does not actually need to be elected, according to the Constitution.
Lindsay lost in George Town South to incumbent Barbara Conolly – a win the Progressives thought would be decisive.
His proposed role as Speaker was pivotal to Panton’s coalition – without him the group would have had to appoint someone among their number to the role.
Since the Speaker typically does not vote – presiding over the affairs of the House – there would have been a de-facto 9-9 split in Parliament making it difficult to get anything done.
Could McKeeva Bush still play a role?
McKeeva Bush met with Panton Friday but no deal was announced. With the rival groups locked at 9-9, he has re-entered the fray as a possible ‘kingmaker’. No group, as yet, has publicly indicated that they would be willing to work with him, however.
- Do you have any questions about the process to form a government? Send them to [email protected] and we will try to answer them.