Equity in democracy

| 02/04/2012

Several weeks after the launch of the one, man one vote campaign, which is now a few names away from triggering the constitutionally enshrined people’s referendum, it seems that the argument has been won. However, the goal to implement the system for the next election remains elusive. Even though there has been almost no public opposition to the proposal, unless there is a serious ground swell of signatures pushing the petition closer to 7,000 the date that Cayman gets single member constituencies will still be controlled by a reluctant premier.

Following last Thursday’s Generation Now debate, it appears that even members of government are unable to defend the status quo very well. Yet they still have the power to control when the people will get to vote in the way the majority would like.

When McKeeva Bush announced his intention to hold the referendum in May next year, he succeeded in taking the wind out of the sails of the campaign and ensuring that the next election will likely be fought under even greater inequitable conditions than ever before.

Bush is clearly certain that the system still works for West Bay because, while it is obvious he would win whichever of the new West Bay single member constituencies he ran in, the premier cannot be sure his party colleagues would be so  successful.

Changing the system creates a further variable that the UDP members cannot be certain of and, given the unpopularity of the current government, some of the incumbents may be concerned that their seats are already in jeopardy. Having to fight on their record in a single member constituency may prove very difficult for some — a prospect that they may not relish.

As the constitution does appear to give government the leeway to decide when a people-initiated referendum takes place, securing only 25% of the electorate on the petition is not going to be enough. It will not be able to prevent the 2013 election result being almost entirely in the hands of the capital’s voters, despite what appears to be growing opposition against the idea of the electorate having six votes in George Town.

There is only one way that the people can hope for the next election to be fought on equitable terms and ensure that the next batch of MLAs voted into what will be an even larger legislature are properly accountable, and that is to sign the petition. In order for the next election in Cayman to be fair and democratic, registered voters must show their support bysigning their names and in effect turn the petition itself into the referendum.

This would also give the people an opportunity to do their bit for their strapped government and save the Treasury some cash.

The move by the former deputy governor to publicly sign the petition on Tuesday will hopefully encourage reluctant civil servants who, despite the new policy, still fear the repercussions to have the courage to use their new right to sign the petition and support the next step in the development of democratic and accountable government. But there needs to be a real surge of support over the next few weeks. Without it, there will be a long wait to 2017.

All things being equal, since even the premier, who is perhaps one of the few remaining political figures who genuinely supports multi-member constituencies, has conceded that giving six votes to capital’s electors is unfair, the ballot should take place before the next election. But despite his admission that the people should be allowed to decide for themselves what system of election Cayman should have, the premier appears to have no intention of allowing the referendum in November, nor does he appear to be considering simply revising the pending draft order and introducing the single member constituencies for 2013.

What Bush needs to consider, however (and as a wily politician we can assume he has given this some thought), is that to force the people to wait another five years for an equitable voting system is not likely to endear the voting populous to the current government. While Bush himself will almost certainly maintain his seat, his colleagues will be the ones to suffer the consequences. Despite the premier’s own enduring popularity, he will be very unlikely to be in a position to form the next government if his party members are rejected by the voters.

As few of the incumbents will have very much to brag about on the hustings next year when it comes to success in office during this administration, actually implementing the historic change of one man, one vote may in fact be the one thing that could save their seats.

However, with a reluctant premier who, if the speculation is to be believed, has a tight grip on the Cabinet and the party, a revolt in the UDP is highly unlikely. So if Cayman wants democracy now and not later the petition really does appear to be its only hope.

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  1. Quinn The Eskimo says:

    Canada is a vast country stretching from the Atlantic to Pacific divided into Provinces and Territories. Here is the representation in Parliament and the number of MP's accorded each of these: 

    Ontario – 106 

    Quebec – 75

    British Columbia – 36

    Alberta – 28

    Manitoba – 14

    Saskatchewan – 14

    Nova Scotia – 11

    New Brunswick – 10

    Newfoundland – 7

    Prince Edward Island – 4

    Northwest Territories – 1

    Yukon – 1

    Nunavit – 1

    As you can see by this, Ontario and Quebec under this system are allowed 181 seats, the entire rest of the country, including all the provinces and territories, are allowed 127 seats. The results of this are all too obvious to Canadians. A government wishing to rule has only to appeal to the needs of two of the thirteen provinces and territories. Although it is still referred to as the country's government it is by no stretch representative of the various needs in different areas. Fish? Timber? Grain? Water Quality? Air Quality? The Environment? Not important. Bay Street financiers and corporate headquarters? Most definitely If you wish to remain in power..

  2. Anonymous says:

    I know that some people in the Cayman Islands are concerned that voters in the more populated districtslike George Town (5,910 voters), West Bay (3,687 voters) and Bodden Town (3,457 voters) get a chance to vote for more representatives than those in the smaller populated districts like Cayman Brac/Little Cayman (962 voters), East End (582 voters) and North Side (558 voters). 

    However, it appears to be similar to the Electoral College in the United States, where according to the Constitution, the states with larger populations must be represented by a larger number of electoral votes.  In each state, whichever party gets a majority of popular votes wins all of the electoral votes, regardless of how narrow the margin is.  By forcing residents in each state ultimately to vote as a block, the system is supposed to ensure that small states' interests are not drowned out by those of larger states.

    As per Article Two, Section 1, Clause 2 of the United States Constitution, it states that "Each state shall appoint, in such manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a number of electors, equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives to which the state may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector."

    Thus, a state gets one elector for every member of Congress it has (Representatives + Senators). Since the allocation of Representatives is based on population (Article One, Section 2, Clause 3), the total number of electors given a state is partially based on their population.
    In all, there are 538 electoral votes and the number given to each state (or voting district, as it would compare to Cayman) reflects the sum of the Representatives and Senators (or Candidates, as it would compare to Cayman) it sends to Congress (or the Legislative Assembly, as it would compare to Cayman).  But, it only takes a minimum of 270 electoral college votes to win the election. 
    So as the current laws are now in the Cayman Islands, the biggest states California (55), New York (31), Texas (34), Pennsylvania (21) have the most impact on the result of the presidential election, over smaller populated states like those similar to Alaska (3), Wyoming (3) and the Dakotas (3 each).  

    Just on a side note, apart from only one other time in America's political history, Democrat Al Gore won the popular vote but lost the election to Republican George W. Bush in 2000.  After the whole world was watching to see who was actually going to be named as President of the United States, strategically-placed Republican Florida Secretary of State Kathleen Harris stopped the re-counting of votes, even though she denied her party affiliation had anything to do with her decision.  It was only after area newspapers requested Freedom of Information that it was determined that in fact Al Gore actually had won by a few hundred votes!

    • Anonymous says:

      In the US in local and state elections when you go to the polls you vote for one person for for each position. One man one vote system.  The electoral college is President/Vice president only.  In the Cayman system now we do not vote on our Premier he is chosen by the elected MLAs.  There is a difference between the US and a parliamentary system.  But he accountability One Man One Vote brings is the same in both systems  The politician know who they are responsible to.

      • Anonymous says:

        Thanks for explaining this.  So, if the proposed OMOV petition actually progresses all the way and gets enacted, is it possible that candidates from the lesser populated districts (say for instance, a candidate running from Little Cayman) will have more of a challenge on getting elected, unless they can connect on a national level with all of the voters?


        It just seems like it will be harder for the smaller districts to have representation in government.  While a representative democracy enables each eligible voter to cast a ballot, the fact is that when legislators ignore the requests of the public by refusing to engage in nationally important issues, voters need to voice their demands more strenuously at the polls.  So I applaud the effort of the OMOV petition.


        My fear is that this will create the age-old problem like Washington, DC touted when they made a strong case of “taxation without representation”.  I know it's not the same regarding taxation, but in principle, every district wants to be represented and have standing that in some way, they have at least one candidate in the house.

  3. Anonymous says:

    It can be argued that Bush should support the petition. He can pick his best district in WB and get reelected, then browbeat the rest of the UDP to reelect him premier (assuming enough of them get reelected.)  If they all run together in one big WB district, he may have pissed off enough people that he doesn't make the cut.

  4. Len Layman says:


    Yes, there is a lot of concern that the UDP is against One Man One Vote because they might lose their strong hold on the electorate in the next election.  There is also concern that the drive for One Man One Vote is only for the purpose of getting rid of the UDP.  There is some truth in both.


    The fact is that One Man One Vote,  (although, it becoming reality may do just that),  is much more important than that.  It is about politicians being accountable to a clearly define electorate:  a single member constituency.   

    A system that takes the ambiguity out of politics. 

    No longer will the people have to wonder who they can hold accountable,  who they can go to for help or with concerns , and who they can either re-elect or vote out next term if they are unhappy with their performance.  It will be clear. This will make politics much easier, understandable,  and real for the voter.

    The benefit for the politician is maybe even more important.  They will no longer have to worry about who they answer to:  Is it the person or party whose "coat tails" they rolled into office on,  the people or businesses  with big dollars to use as influence, or the people of their constituency which elected them?  The answer will be simple.  They have to work to please the same people who will hold their reelection in their hand at the next election.  They will know that they will need to have close and ongoing dialogue with their constituents.  Not just at election time but every day.  They will need understand that  the wants and desire of the people they represent are their priority.  They will know that this can only be done by consulting them constantly and relentlessly. 

    This is what democracy is all about.   Accountability, responsibility, transparency, and consultation.  It puts the burden on both the politician and the voter.  But clearly defines the lines of communication forboth.

    This is why I ask you to help assure  that the future of the Cayman Islands democratic system starts with the next election being true reflection of the individual voters  wants.

    Sign the petition and help make sure that the 2013 election will be a history making one, a One Man One Vote election  helping to pave the way to more responsive  and accountable government for the future of Cayman.

    Thank you.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I was going to comment that however good this piece is, you might have been motivated to use simpler English so as to edumacate those that do not understand a lot of big words run together. However, from one of the posts already present, admittedly, it looks like it was understood by the less fortunate in the dictionary/spelling department.


    Well done

  6. Anonymous says:

    As a civil servant, Donnie's announcement and planned action has inspired me to sign.

    One day, the list of names on the petition may become an historic document, a document that shows a people standing up against inequality and a tyrant. When that day comes, I want my name to be onthat list as one of those persons who stood up for fairness and democracy.

    I hope others will follow too and show that the power is truly with the people, lest those persons elected should ever forget it.

  7. Anonymous says:

    CNS surely you could have honestly stated the basis for which this election change has been pushed forward by politicians…to break the UDP hold in certain election districts. This is sold to the people with words like equity and democracy with noble ideals but the real modivation is to get a new government in after the next election. Surely honesty would modivate you to incluse this reality.

    I don't expect politicians when queried to admit this as was dodged last week but surely you could have admitted this is a political move packaged in ideals.

    • Anonymous says:

      I don't believe it is. Single member constituencies and one man one voote in no way guarantees or in any way increases anyones chance of election.

    • Anonymous says:

      I can think of no better reason to sign this petition than to get rid of the UDP. It is certainly one of the reasons that I gladly signed the petition and will vote in favor of OMOV when the referendum comes around.

      Nontheless the UDP should not rejoice in my honesty as none of them would have any fear of losing their seat (under eithert system) if they just did what the people wanted them to do in the first place as a happy voter will always result in a vote for the polititian that made them happy.

    • Anonymous says:

      We could as easily say that the only reason the UDP is opposing this is because it fears it will break the UDP hold in certain election districts.

      I don't think it is CNS's job to speculate about motives. Whatever the motives that does not change the fact that it is the right thing to do.

      BTW getting a new govt. in after the elections would also be a noble ideal.   

      • Anonymous says:

        My belief is that the politicians who founded this petition did so with political motives wrapped in idealistic rhetoric and the people of the Cayman Islands need to realize the underlying agenda behind the rush to hold the referendum. On the same point the current government looks to delay the same until the next election for the same personal political motives. 

        We hear the word transparency thrown around but idealistic rhetoric sounds more pleasant that political manipulation. I support one person one vote but condemn the manipulation used by those behind it.

  8. Anonymous says:

    I think that Bush's greater fear is that one or two of his colleagues from West Bay might win and he might be the one who loses.

    Rollie is consistent and well liked and clearly Cline no longer enjoys his earlier favoured position. But it might just be the two of them who succeeed in newly defined single member electoral constituencies leaving Bush to fight his own battle.

    The petition is really a ray of hope!