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Independent Candidates and the 2021 Election

Education 02 Dec, 2020 Follow News

Dr. Livingston Smith is a Professor at the University College of the Cayman Islands. He is also Director of the CXC Education Volunteer programme

With general elections set for May 26, 2021, we should expect campaigning to begin in earnest in the early part of the new year. Those experienced in the art and science of winning elections know that going door to door and having face-to face conversations with voters is the gold standard. It comes down to relationship and trust building which does not happen overnight. Turning up near to an election is not ideal.

The upcoming elections should be quite interesting. The new leader of the People’s Progressive Movement has been announced and the Premier will be running to retain his Red Bay seat. A new political party, the Cayman Islands People’s Party has been formally launched. As to how many candidates it will eventually field and their impact on the elections we will know then. Will the current Opposition Members run as a ‘Team’ with one name? Will the Cayman Democratic Party be fielding candidates? The answers to all these questions will be know in time.

Another important question is how many independent candidates will be running and what will be their impact on the elections? In the 2017 elections, some sixty-one candidates participated with thirty five of these using the label ‘Independent.’ Readers will recall that the PPM fielded fifteen and the CDP, eleven.

So far at least two candidates have declared their intentions to run as Independents. There are two main categories of candidates who compete in an election. There are those who are the pick of political parties. Hopefully, the party would have had a selection process that follows some transparent procedure as outlined in its constitution. The political party candidate would be expected to have agreed to the ideas and general objectives and approach to governance of the party. This candidate is expected to abide by the rules and policies of the party which would have been articulated before.  In fact, in a political party worth its name, there would have been constant discussion and analysis of position papers inviting colleagues to have their say as they work through the best policies for the country.

Thus, the political party candidate, as part of a team of persons who have a cohesive platform of ideas, would be expected to promote this platform in the campaign preceding the election. Should the party win, she would be clear as to the priorities and policies to be implemented in collaboration with party colleagues and others in the legislature.

Significantly also, the candidate representing a political party would have the advantage of benefitting from an established party, its various identifying symbols, and its organizational acumen and so on. This candidate would also benefit from the party’s financial resources in carrying out its campaigning and other activities and the support and backing of the party leader and his fellow colleagues all seeking to be elected. These are significant resources that are usually available to the political party candidate.

On the other hand, the independent candidate is the so-called nonpartisan politician who does not want to or is not able to be affiliated to any political party. In many instances, the independent candidate has a different view of what is urgent and important for the society from those of the main political parties.

There are instances where an independent candidate may be associated with a political party, perhaps as former members of it, or else have views that align with it, but choose not to stand in its name, or are unable to do so because the party in question has selected another candidate. Others may belong to or support a political party’s ideas but believe they should not formally represent it as they do not want to be subjected to that party’s rules. They instead desire to have the autonomy to form alliances as needed to achieve important objectives. Ironically, in attempting to win and hold public office, sometimes independents choose to form a party or alliance with other independents and as one political scientist explains, even where the word "independent" is used, such alliances have much in common with a political party.

Independent candidates do not feature significantly in the political landscape of the independent English-Speaking Caribbean countries. Studies done on their impacts national and on European elections show that such candidates are marginal vote getters in most elections in which they compete.  In these contexts, the tendency is for these candidates to draw support from voters who are more critical of their governments and more dissatisfied with the way democracy is working, than are party-voters. Sometimes those who vote for these candidates do so as a vote of protest. One such study entitled ‘Independent Candidates in National and European Elections’ among other observations, points out that ‘When independent candidates are elected to office, they frequently join parties and parliamentary party groups.’

Sometimes independent candidates underestimate the challenge of going it alone. It is a major financial undertaking made even more-so as it is usually more difficult to find sponsors. Those who contribute money to political organizations usually favour giving to political parties, not single individuals.  The independent candidate might have to depend significantly on personal resources to fund his campaign.

The independent candidate must also take on the challenging task of putting together an effective campaign. This can also be a daunting task and to be successful the candidate must gain as much help as possible. The independent candidate must also have a set of policies to take to the public and must be convincing enough to have the attention of the voters. Critically, this candidate must have the ability to work with as many members of the legislature if she is to get anything achieved, should she win her seat.

The independent candidate, much more than the political party candidate, must give serious thought as to whether a run is worth it, especially given the resources required and the multiple challenges of going it alone.  Significantly, this candidate must consider if, should he win, how will he make an impact, how will he get through an agenda, how will he influence policy and be seen to be doing so.

Independent candidates do add much to the political process. Voters have more choices and more policy platforms from which to choose. For those who are not attracted to any of the parties, they might see their political salvation in an independent candidate.

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