Archive for May 27th, 2008

A failure to win the real hearts and minds

| 27/05/2008 | 0 Comments

During the recent consultation period, the people of the Cayman
Islands were given a fair opportunity to air their thoughts and
opinions on the way forward with the country’s new constitution. With
the PPM government’s road show now over it has come up with its final
proposals and a sample ballot paper, which gives a reasonable outline
of what the referendum questions will be.

It is fair to say that, as far as the government proposals for a new
constitution document go, the referendum paper gives voters a
reasonable chance to say clearly what they do and don’t agree with,
except of course for the one thing that can’t be up for discussion –
the Bill of Rights.

It is rather ironic for the government, which has gone to some
considerable lengths to ensure that the people will be behind the key
points they intend to negotiate in London, that the one area which
cannot really be debated is the one area where they have failed to win
the hearts and minds.

The UK has already stated quite clearly that any proposals for a new
constitution must come with a Bill of Rights, and herein lies the
problem.

It is probably true to say that the government has won the people over
with a number of their propositions for the actual constitution
document, including ideas of re-balancing power between governor and
elected leaders as well as one member one vote. Moreover, the
government has also come up with a relatively democratic way of
measuring the proposals the people don’t like in the upcoming national
ballot.

But the elephant in the room, so to speak, as far as the coming vote
is concerned is the Bill of Rights.

Even at this eleventh hour there is little evidence to suggest that
the church or the vast majority of people who are entitled to vote
here (which, is must not be forgotten, amounts to only around one
quarter of the population) are convinced that Cayman should have a
Bill of Rights.

It may seem utterly absurd to the vast majority of people who won’t be
going to the polls, but it is very clear that the loudest objections
throughout this process have centred on how a Bill of Rights will
undermine the local culture.

Never mind that the bill will only apply vertically, that it is
designed to protect the people from the worst excesses of state power
or that a Bill of Rights boils down to protecting freedoms, something
that Caymanians generally hold dear.

The fear that enacting such a bill could in the future herald rights
for homosexuals or other religions has undermined any support that
most people would naturally have for human rights.

When a prominent member of the opposition political party is standing
up in public and demanding some form of discriminatory clause in the
Bill of ights against homosexual behaviour, one can only conclude that
the principle in this argument has been utterly lost. Unfortunately
for government, this one item could also be the ballot loser. And
while keeping the issue well away from the ballot paper may help the
government to gain an overall yes vote for their proposals, there are
many who will see through this and, of course, vote against the entire
process simply because of an irrational fear that accepting a Bill of
Rights means ‘yes’ to gay marriage or a mosque opening on Crew Road.

The campaign to convince the people of Cayman that a Bill of Rights
would not necessarily affect these two examples or any others that
have presented themselves over the past four months or so has failed.
The overriding fear that Cayman’s Christian culture is about to go to
hell in a hand basket if the bill is passed has sadly prevailed.

The failure of the campaign to explain the difference between rights
and protections and discrimination and prejudice is illustrated by
numerous letters to the media, calls to radio talk show discussions
and, most forcefully of all, by the opposition which has categorically
stated that the government is failing in its duties by not finding a
way to integrate specific discrimination into the Bill of Rights –
which of course is an oxymoron.

Sadly, the progress of the nation’s constitution could be severely
undermined by this issue because the opinion of those who are entitled
to vote has not been won.

And moreover, as the opposition makes plans to take its show on the
road where, no doubt, they will be doing their level best to seek a no
vote and will have no reservations about using the Bill of Rights as a
weapon in their campaign, the government may just be wishing, on this
occasion at least, that all those liberal ex-pats were enfranchised
after all.

 

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