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An open invitation to party politics in Cayman

Opinions & Editorial 16 Apr, 2021 Follow News

An open invitation to party politics in Cayman

With Cayman once again finding itself destined for a coalition government, the question of how we do politics again arises.

Amidst all this, there’s cause to revisit the tentative and even cautious approach to party politics a construct that’s yet to be fully embraced by candidates and voters.

Still navigating a way out of a previous ‘team based’ system and navigating the rather unfamiliar waters of party politics Cayman once again finds itself with a Parliament dominated by independents.

This does not speak to the lofty goal of independence as an ultimate political destiny for these islands. Clearly, that’s not a pressing or even secondary issue on Cayman’s political agenda. And rightly so. For now at least.

Instead, what we are faced with here is something much more pedestrian...and perhaps even mundane.

It appears to be a reluctance to establish and maintain political parties.

Numerous reasons and analyses have been advanced for this seeming hesitance to embrace what is a political norm in advanced democracies, amongst which Cayman has every right to be counted.

The 2021 election saw only one party in the closest sense of the word contest the election.

The People’s Progressive Movement (PPM), branded as The Progressives for the campaign, led the previous Unity government in a coalition with several independents and the previously-ruling Cayman Democratic Party (CDP) formerly the United Democratic Party (UDP).

But the UDP frayed with its ‘members’ running this year as independents.

The Progressives joined a campaigning pact with several independents under the banner of the Progressives and The Independents Alliance.

It’s noteworthy that of 50 candidates who ran this year, 42 were independents. And the outcome of the election reflected that pattern with independent candidates reprising the 2017 result by dominating the seat allocation.

Of the 19 seats at stake, independent candidates excluding one aligned to the Progressives garnered 11 seats.

The Progressives on their own won seven seats with another from an Independents Alliance campaigning partner.

The inevitability is another coalition in a political climate dominated by independents.

The question arises: Is this indicative of a trend leading to standard Cayman politics?

It’s only in recent times that party politics have taken some semblance of root in Cayman and while there has been success at the polls, sowing the seeds of the very ethos of party politics seems to be falling on barren ground in Cayman...so far.

Coming out of a history of loosely based alliances national teams of like-minded individuals with strong district allegiances, might it might be proving to be insurmountably challenging to transition from the familiar to a more structured and modern party political machinery?

Cayman’s first political party, the then Progressive Democratic Party, was only established in 1991, followed in 1996 by the Democratic Alliance and Team Cayman. The United Democratic Party (later Cayman Democratic Party) was formed in 2001 out of the electoral success of its individual members the year before and the People’s Progressive Movement (now The Progressives) came on stream in 2002.

In the annals of politics, that’s a very short history.

But throughout its political history, Cayman can boast of a proud record of strong individual political leaders and personalities both men and women which further confounds the question of the dearth of political parties in the current era.

The view has been posited of a fear of political tribalism and the ‘garrison politics’ associated with Jamaica, Cayman’s former British colonial administrative centre.

But that draws an immediate comparison to the Turks and Caicos Islands which also fell under the Jamaica regional British colonial outpost.

Both Cayman and its sister British Overseas Territory were removed from under that umbrella when Jamaica went independent from Britain.

It’s also to be noted that the party system thrives elsewhere in the English-speaking Caribbean, the administering power - the UK, and elsewhere in the Commonwealth and western democracies.

Politics by its very nature is tribal, even at the constituency level with independent candidates.

But parties bring a collective strategy, unify policies, allow for a more cohesive and structured system of government and opposition government, are less prone to fragmentation and are better placed to withstand such impacts.

But they require organisation, discipline and commitment.

In the 2021 campaign, it was not unusual to hear candidates proclaim that this election is the most important of a generation including the pandemic, and that Cayman is at a critical crossroads.

That could very well be right especially with the high calibre of politicians now entering - or returning to - the arena.

It might be time overdue - or the right time - for a new type of politics in Cayman built around the party system.

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