Seven days in Cayman: The rocky road to power

A week is often said to be a long time in politics and that proved to be the case over the seven days following the general election in the Cayman Islands.

Since the polls closed on 14 April, alliances rose and fell, allegiances shifted, reversed and were re-established, as rival groups engaged in a shadow battle for power that some dubbed Cayman’s ‘Game of Thrones’.

Here we run down the key developments on the rocky road to power for Wayne Panton and his independent coalition.

14 April, around midnight

Progressives leader Roy McTaggart cheers after re-capturing his George Town East seat. Photo: Taneos Ramsay

There were jubilant scenes at the Progressives headquarters as the final results came in.

Leader Roy McTaggart said he was “overjoyed” with the results and would target a “broad coalition” government.

At that point, with eight alliance members elected, the Progressives appeared confident they had agreements in place to get the two more they would need to form a government.

15 April

Multiple independent members huddled overnight and, by morning, Wayne Panton had pulled together a coalition of 10.

He went to Governor Martyn Roper with expressions of support for his election as premier.

At that time, the group, dubbed PACT, included all independent MPs not officially partnered with the Progressives, except McKeeva Bush.

Roper confirmed 21 April as a possible swearing-in date but Panton’s rival, Roy McTaggart, insisted talks were continuing and the race was not over.

15 April, around midnight

The Progressives announced that Isaac Rankine, of East End, and Prospect’s Sabrina Turner, initially part of the PACT group, had agreed to join a coalition government with them.

The signatures of ten members were released to the media and it seemed that Roy McTaggart was once again in pole position to be premier.

In their statement, the Progressives claimed they had pre-election agreements with Rankine and North Side’s Jay Ebanks – who was not announced as part of their team at that time – and that they had offered a Cabinet post to Turner.

16 April, afternoon

Back in the fold: Sabrina Turner and Wayne Panton embrace after the meeting that secured her return to his coalition Friday.

Amid rumors of a snap session of parliament to announce the new government, the governor released a statement saying that Panton was still the only representative to submit letters of support for his election as premier and confirming that he requested April 21 as a date for the swearing-in.

The independents gathered at the White House, formerly the DMS building in George Town. McKeeva Bush re-entered the fray as a possible partner for Panton’s government, as the Compass witnessed him leaving the building.

Just as significantly, Turner emerged from the building alongside Panton and appeared to be back on the team.

16 April, evening

Turner hosted a public meeting in Prospect to confirm she was back with PACT. Other members of the independent group lined up behind her in a show of support. Panton received a hero’s reception from a crowd of supporters amid calls of ‘my premier’ as he got up to speak, saying the country deserves a government led by independents.

There was no official word on the talks with McKeeva Bush and, at that point, the two groups were locked at 9-9, with the former Speaker the man in the middle and the potential kingmaker.

17 April, morning

The Progressives and PACT traded rival press releases, as news of a meeting between the two groups emerged.

While Roy McTaggart suggested the discussions were designed to consider a possible coalition government, Panton released a later statement saying the meeting lasted just 15 minutes and was simply aimed at offering the Sister Islands’ representatives a voice in his government.

He said the Progressives must accept the “will of the people” for an independent-led government and indicated he would announce his Cabinet on Monday.

17 April, afternoon

Protesters descended on the home of East End representative Isaac Rankine Saturday. Photo: Michael Klein

East End representative Isaac Rankine, who remained aligned with the Progressives, called a meeting to discuss the situation with his constituents. The meeting was cancelled, with Rankine citing public safety concerns amid apparent threats of violence on social media.

A crowd of protesters, largely from outside the district, descended on his home, waving placards and shouting “we want change”. There was a heavy police presence, but the protest was peaceful. As of that evening, it was still locked at 9-9 with Bush in the position to decide the government.

18 April

Roy McTaggart released a statement indicating talks for his group to lead the government were still very much on. He called for calm and an end to “online bullying” as MPs negotiated.

McTaggart said Panton’s reference to himself as ‘Premier Designate’ and his talk of forming a cabinet were presumptuous.

He said the numbers did not yet add up to a PACT government unless the group made a deal with McKeeva Bush, saying such an arrangement would be a reversal of position for Panton, who had said he left the Progressives Party, in part, because of their failure to deal with Bush.

McTaggart said he was not considering Bush as a potential partner to help form a government.

19 April

After a tense day of talks with radio silence on all sides, Panton issued a press release announcing plans to bring Bush back as Speaker. Panton named seven Cabinet members, including Chris Saunders, Kenneth Bryan, André Ebanks and Sabrina Turner, as his core team.

The announcement was immediately dismissed by the Progressives as “a ruse”.
With a 9-9 split on the floor of Parliament and Bush in the Speaker’s chair, questions were raised by the Progressives over whether Panton’s government could get legislation passed, elect him as Premier or even achieve the quorum required to discuss business.

20 April, afternoon

There was a mixed reaction to the deal with Bush. The Crisis Centre rejected an offer of 10% of his salary as part of an attempt to make amends following his conviction for assault on a woman.

Others who had criticized the previous government for their indulgence of the speaker appeared to be okay with this arrangement, which also included support for a Parliamentary Code of Conduct, if it helped Panton become premier.

20 April, evening

Premier Wayne Panton and his team meeting with Governor Martyn Roper presenting a revised list of MPs support his leadership of the government. Photo: GIS

The governor confirmed he had received new letters of support from the majority of representatives to make Panton premier.

Amid questions over Bush’s ability to cast a deciding vote for Panton from the speaker’s chair, Irma Arch was proposed as an outside Speaker for the swearing-in ceremony, which the Governor set for 21 April at 3pm.

That arrangement left no room for doubt about the independent group’s ability to form the next government, though longer-term questions lingered about how it would function effectively with such numbers.

21 April, morning

The final dominoes fell into place and it was game over as Panton shored up his majority.
Isaac Rankine rejoined the PACT and Juliana O’Connor-Connolly emailed her Progressive colleagues to tell them she had accepted the offer of a ministerial post with the independent group.

21 April, afternoon

With the battle over, Panton was nominated as premier and elected without the need for a vote in the House.

Bush was re-elected as speaker over Barbara Conolly who was proposed as an alternative by the Progressives.

21 April, evening

In the fading light outside Parliament, Wayne Panton delivered his first speech as premier, calling for unity after a week of division.

He had some words of conciliation for his political rivals and thanked his predecessor, Alden McLaughlin, for his eight years of service at the helm and for the “miracle of life without masks” in the midst of a pandemic.

Panton vowed not to open the borders until “it is safe to do so” and promised to take Cayman towards a more sustainable future.

He said his government would work to “uplift and better the lives of every Caymanian and those who call the Cayman Islands home”.

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