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PETER WICKHAM: Political 2017

By Peter Wickham From Nation News Barbados

2017 IS LIKELY to be a relatively quiet year politically in this region as there is only one scheduled election in the Cayman Islands. Politicos in the southern and eastern Caribbean tend not to pay too much attention to the politics of the Cayman Islands, largely because of its status as a British Overseas Territory. Yet, the politics of this country is fascinating especially as it is maturing and evolving into a two-party democracy based on one person, one vote, consistent with the other Caribbean Islands.

The Cayman Islands is one of the few places where approximately half of the resident population does not take part in elections because of their immigrant status. As such, those who vote take decisions on behalf of the remaining inhabitants who are often treated with the same hostility that we treat Guyanese immigrants in Barbados. The elected Legislative Assembly comprises 20 seats (18 elected) and elections are held every four years based on a fixed date system. The Caymanian constitution regulates the size of the Cabinet and the party system is still relatively new to that country which now has two members who were elected and are sitting as independents.

The Cayman government is led by the Progressives (PPM) under Premier Alden McLaughlin and his government includes the former Progressives Premier Kurt Tibbetts who sits as Minister for Planning, Lands, Agriculture, Housing and Infrastructure. The independent benches also host another noteworthy political character by the name of Arden McClean who was also once a Progressive but fell out of favour with this group while they sat on the opposition benches and was re-elected as an independent.

The other two major political entities in the Cayman Islands are the United Democratic Party (UDP) and Coalition for Cayman (C4C), which is not represented in the Legislative Assembly. The former entity recently held office under the leadership of McKeeva Bush who is a former premier who was charged with corruption while he held office just prior to the last election. Bush was vindicated in that case, which involved the use of a government credit card for the settlement of a personal debt. He continues to be eligible to hold office and remains quite popular.

 The Cayman Islands previously adhered to a complicated system of multiple member constituencies which allowed persons to vote several times for a fixed number of MPs. However, that has been scrapped in favour of a simple system which gives each person one vote. This election will be the first contested under such system which puts the opposition UDP at a disadvantage. This disadvantage could, however, be easily overcome if the UDP and C4C formed a united front, which is unlikely on account of an intense dislike for Bush who is the only possible leader of UDP. This election takes place in May 2017 and is the only scheduled Caribbean election for 2017.

Grenada and Barbados are due to return to the polls in early 2018 and it is widely believed that in both instances there will be early elections. The Grenada case is the one where an early poll is more likely since there is a strategic logic coupled with a leader who has the political tenacity to exploit such opportunities. The Barbados case is another matter and in this regard I am convinced that Barbados will not have an election before it is due and quite possibly on the last possible date it is due.

An early election in Barbados would be politically wise for reasons that are largely economic. Our economy has continued to teeter on the brink of recession since 2008 and thus far all efforts to turn things around have failed with our debt and deficit growing exponentially. Amid this economic confusion, the Prime Minister has remained optimistic (if and when he speaks). However, the economic indicators tell an entirely different story. An early election would force the Government to either articulate a clear economic plan for endorsement by the electorate or alternatively admit the fact that he has no plan.

If the DLP has an economic plan beyond the MTFS, EMTFS and 2013 Budget, an election would provide it with a mandate to pursue the plan to our mutual benefit. Alternatively, the exposure of the DLP’s hollowness would provide a platform for an alternative programme and either way we would be saved the indignity of 14-17 more months of economic meandering which had and will continue to damage our economic and social sectors in ways that will take many years to repair.

Naturally I am convinced that none of this logic will impact on the one person who can call an early election as he inhabits a space that is very different to that of most of the rest of us. Life on planet Stuart couldn’t be better . . . “Good Friday has passed and Easter is here”, with the promise of a third term whenever he calls an election, whether it be 14 or 17 months from now. So we wait until 2018.

Peter W. Wickham is a political consultant and a director of Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES). Email: [email protected]

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