The May elections are upon us and again citizens will have the right to decide who their leaders will be. It is a right that Caymanian males have been exercising since that important meeting at Pedro Castle on Dec. 5, 1831, when the principal inhabitants of the islands decided on a more formal legislature consisting of representatives and magistrates.
On Dec. 10 1831, two representatives each were elected from the districts of West Bay, George Town, South West Sound, Prospect and Bodden Town. These 10 representatives were later referred to as a vestry.
But then, it was only a partial democracy as it was not until the election of 1959 that women, following considerable protest, were allowed to vote. The election process has got better over time and today can be regarded as one of the best internationally.
For example, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association’s Elections Observers Mission leader Mario Galea, MP from Malta, gave the Cayman Islands nine out of 10 for the elections and elections process of 2013.
The external observers of the 2013 elections concluded that the overall process was very good and that it “met the international standards for democratic, genuine and transparent elections.”
The observers further concluded that the Elections Office “acted in an impartial and transparent manner,” that “the procedures were followed, polling staff was generally well trained and polling agents representing different candidates were present in all polling stations.”
There is, seemingly, a strong view that predicting who will win this election is unthinkable. Yet, at the same time, the prevailing wisdom seems to be that no party is likely to win sufficient seats to form a government by itself. Many believe that a coalition government is inevitable.
The issues in the election are much clearer. One of these is that this election could be seen as a referendum on political parties in Cayman.
Cayman’s two main political parties, the Cayman Democratic Party (formed following the Nov. 8, 2000 election, then known as the United Democratic Party) and the People’s Progressive Movement (founded in 2002) were not the first political parties to be formed in Cayman.
There was the Cayman Vanguard Progressive Party, formed by William Warren Connolly in 1958. After its demise, party politics began again in 1961 when the National Democratic Party was registered under the leadership of Ormond Panton.
The upcoming election is the fourth to be contested by CDP and PPM. In 2005, the PPM won 9, the UDP 5, some 82 percent of the vote, and independent one. In 2009, it was reversed with the UDP winning 9, the PPM 5, some 84 percent of the vote and Independent 1 and in 2013, the PPM won 9, the UDP 3, some 64 percent of the vote, Coalition for Cayman 3, Peoples National Congress1 and Independents 2.
Unlike the rest of the Caribbean, Cayman’s main political parties are not the only game in town. Indeed, the May 24 election will be just as crucial for the two main parties as it will be for independent candidates.
The literature on the subject of one person one vote, first-past the post system says that this arrangement favours two party entrenchment. The argument goes, because the voter, keen on making his vote have an impact on the election outcome, has little incentive for voting for a third party deemed as having little chance for success.
Because the first past the post system gives third parties little chance of winning seats, voters will avoid supporting them for fear of wasting their votes on what they see as “sure losers.” Because of this, third parties, such as the Peoples National Alliance and the Coalition for Cayman, tend to be eliminated over time leaving two dominant parties.
We will know if this holds true, or if the argument that independent candidates, by virtue of not being hampered by party allegiance, are better able to govern, wins the day.
The other main issues have to do with whether or not the majority of voters believe that the country is heading in the right or wrong direction.
Voters who are more issues-centered will bear in mind the cost of living, employment and unemployment levels, the quality of the education system, the extent to which Caymanians are getting ahead, levels of crime and violence, the quality of health services, opportunities for young people and other such matters as social tensions, corruption in government, immigration laws and housing.
Perceptive voters know that there are little ideological differences among the political parties and their candidates. For these voters, it is the qualities inherent in their leaders, their track-record and their manifestos that will decide their votes.
Qualities such as honesty and integrity, trustworthiness and reliability, commitment to country, accessibility and, importantly the extent to which the candidate can connect with constituents, are all important.
One thing is certain, only 19 of the 61 candidates will win. And yet for those who will lose, the society still owes a debt of gratitude for making democracy possible.